Tennis Suspends Russia and Belarus but Will Allow Their Players to Compete
The organizations that oversee professional tennis will prohibit Russia and Belarus from competing in team events but will allow players from those countries to participate in tournaments without any national identification.
The announcement on Tuesday came one day after the International Olympic Committee recommended that sports organizations bar Russian and Belarusian athletes from events. Other groups, including FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, have also imposed penalties following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a deployment that has been assisted by Belarus.
“The International Tennis Federation condemns Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its facilitation by Belarus,” a statement said. “In addition to the cancellation of all I.T.F. events in those countries, the I.T.F. Board has today announced the immediate suspension of the Russian Tennis Federation and Belarus Tennis Federation from I.T.F. membership and from participation in I.T.F. international team competition until further notice. The I.T.F. remains in close contact with the Ukraine Tennis Federation and stands in solidarity with the people of Ukraine.”
In a joint statement from all the governing bodies for the sport, organizers said the events of the past week had caused “distress, shock and sadness.”
“We commend the many tennis players who have spoken out and taken action against this unacceptable act of aggression,” the statement continued. “We echo their calls for the violence to end and peace to return.”
The men’s and women’s professional tours also suspended a tournament scheduled for Moscow in October.
Enforcing penalties on countries is a complicated issue for tennis, especially because seven organizations oversee the sport and its major events. For much of the year, players operate as independent contractors who compete for themselves rather than their countries. Most have only limited interaction with the national federations that run tennis in their homelands and work with private coaches and managers.
The initial announcement Tuesday from the I.T.F. amounted to an attempt to separate players born in Russia and Belarus from their nations, a move that Elina Svitolina, Ukraine’s top-ranked professional, had urged her sport to pursue.
Svitolina, the top seed this week in a tournament in Mexico, on Monday announced that she would not play her first-round match against Anastasia Potapova of Russia unless Russian and Belarusian players competed only as neutral athletes.
In a Twitter post, Svitolina said that her fellow tennis players were not to blame for the Russian invasion, but that the world had to send a message to Russia through every possible channel.
In recent years, Russia has become the world’s leading tennis nation. It won the major national team tournaments for both the men and the women last year. Belarus is the home of the third-ranked women’s player, Aryna Sabalenka, and to 16th-ranked Victoria Azarenka.
The timing of the I.O.C.’s recommendation came on the same day that Daniil Medvedev of Russia took over the No. 1 ranking on the ATP Tour, which oversees the men’s professional game.
Medvedev is the first player who is not a member of the game’s so-called Big Four — Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray — to become the world No. 1 since 2004. Also on Monday, Andrey Rublev, another top Russian player, rose to No. 6.
Understand Russia’s Attack on Ukraine
What is at the root of this invasion? Russia considers Ukraine within its natural sphere of influence, and it has grown unnerved at Ukraine’s closeness with the West and the prospect that the country might join NATO or the European Union. While Ukraine is part of neither, it receives financial and military aid from the United States and Europe.
Are these tensions just starting now? Antagonism between the two nations has been simmering since 2014, when the Russian military crossed into Ukrainian territory, after an uprising in Ukraine replaced their Russia-friendly president with a pro-Western government. Then, Russia annexed Crimea and inspired a separatist movement in the east. A cease-fire was negotiated in 2015, but fighting has continued.
How did this invasion unfold? After amassing a military presence near the Ukrainian border for months, on Feb. 21, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia signed decrees recognizing two pro-Russian breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine. On Feb. 23, he declared the start of a “special military operation” in Ukraine. Several attacks on cities around the country have since unfolded.
What has Mr. Putin said about the attacks? Mr. Putin said he was acting after receiving a plea for assistance from the leaders of the Russian-backed separatist territories of Donetsk and Luhansk, citing the false accusation that Ukrainian forces had been carrying out ethnic cleansing there and arguing that the very idea of Ukrainian statehood was a fiction.
How has Ukraine responded? On Feb. 23, Ukraine declared a 30-day state of emergency as cyberattacks knocked out government institutions. Following the beginning of the attacks, Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, declared martial law. The foreign minister called the attacks “a full-scale invasion” and called on the world to “stop Putin.”
How has the rest of the world reacted? The United States, the European Union and others have condemned Russia’s aggression and begun issuing economic sanctions against Russia. Germany announced on Feb. 23 that it would halt certification of a gas pipeline linking it with Russia. China refused to call the attack an “invasion,” but did call for dialogue.
How could this affect the economy? Russia controls vast global resources — natural gas, oil, wheat, palladium and nickel in particular — so the conflict could have far-reaching consequences, prompting spikes in energy and food prices and spooking investors. Global banks are also bracing for the effects of sanctions.
Both players have spoken out against the war. Medvedev issued a lengthy post on Twitter calling for peace, and Rublev wrote, “No War Please,” on the glass of a television camera at a recent tournament that he won.
Medvedev, 26, has lived in France and Monaco for years. Rublev, 24, has trained often in Spain and Florida. Both are scheduled to make their next major appearance this month at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif.
On Tuesday, ahead of the expected announcement from tennis authorities, Svitolina told ITV News that she would compete against Potapova while wearing Ukraine’s national colors, yellow and blue.
The WTA, the women’s professional tour, has three players from Russia and Belarus in the top 20, Azarenka, who is a player representative to its board.
The announcement came after several days of discussions with the WTA and ATP and leaders of the major tournaments. The I.T.F., which organizes competitions between nations — including the Olympic tournament, the Davis Cup for men and the Billie Jean King Cup for women — excluded Russia and Belarus from those events at least through this year.
The I.T.F. immediately forfeited Belarus from its Davis Cup tie against Mexico scheduled for this weekend.
Also included were the organizations behind the four Grand Slam tournaments: the French Tennis Federation; the United States Tennis Association; Tennis Australia; and the Lawn Tennis Association, which organizes Wimbledon. Those events will allow players from Belarus and Russia to participate but their presence will come without any mention or identification of their nationalities.