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At Roland-Garros, the war in Ukraine divides the circuit

Since the opening of the 2022 edition of Roland-Garros, the Grand Slam tournament has been buzzing with conversations that have little to do with what is happening on Parisian clay. The announcement of the ATP and WTA circuits (the players’ associations which govern, respectively, men’s and women’s tennis), Friday May 20, that they would not award points during the Wimbledon tournament, in response to the decision of the London tournament to exclude Russian and Belarusian players, has plunged the world of tennis back into debates that have occupied it since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine at the end of February.

This decision, which transforms Wimbledon – one of the most prestigious tournaments on the planet – into an exhibition that does not count for the player rankings will trigger a stir in the world rankings, because, each year, the players must defend the points obtained during the tournaments of the previous year.

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“On a personal level, this will affect me negatively”, recognized the London title holder, Novak Djokovic. Already prevented from defending his crown at the Australian Open due to his vaccination status, the Serb could lose his place as world number 1 after Wimbledon, in favor of Russian Daniil Medvedev. And this even if he manages to keep his title on the turf across the Channel.

But the latter does not hold it against the institutions of his sport. “I’m glad the players and the ATP have come together, to show the Grand Slams that when they make a mistake – and Wimbledon made one – there are bound to be consequences”insisted the one who hunts, Porte d’Auteuil, his 21and Grand Slam title.

In Paris, neither flags, nor mention of the country, nor anthem

Still, the debate is tense behind the scenes. In this individual sport, many are those who regret not having been consulted. “The intention is good, but the realization is nonsense”said Japanese Naomi Osaka on Monday, considering not to compete “this tournament, which looks like an exhibition”.

Never the last to express his thoughts – on and off the courts – Benoît Paire tumbled into the debate after his defeat in the first round against Belarusian Ilya Ivashka on Tuesday. “I’m sorry for the Russians and Russia, but they’re the ones who screwed up. All ATP players from other countries are penalized”, fumed the Frenchman. Emphasizing that “99% of players want points and play a normal tournament”, Pair wonders “if the ATP rather defends the players or Russia”.

This points debate almost overshadows the question that sparked it: should Russian players be allowed to compete in the Grand Slam draws? Unlike Wimbledon, which had chosen at the end of April to ban them to prevent the Russian regime from drawing the slightest benefit from their performances, Roland-Garros welcomes many Russian or Belarusian players, in accordance with the decisions of the French government.

“We will apply the strict neutrality that is requested [aux joueurs russes]. No flag, no mention of the country, neither on the boards, nor on the panels, no anthem, exposed Amélie Mauresmo, interviewed before the competition by Eurosport. But we don’t want to punish the individual. »

This choice was welcomed by the circuit, but greeted with bitterness by the Ukrainian players. “Allowing a Russian tennis player to take part in the circuit is propaganda for the Kremlin, which politicizes the sport”, exhibited Elina Svitolina at the beginning of May.

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The WTA, which governs the women’s circuit, was hailed at the end of 2021 for standing up to China in the case of Peng Shuai – a Chinese tennis player who disappeared from radar after accusing of rape a senior regime official. “The WTA has been really active on this issue, not hesitating to stop all its tournaments in China, it was very brave, greet Svitolina. And there, while we are talking about an even worse situation, an ongoing war, they do nothing. »

At Roland-Garros, her compatriot Lesia Tsurenko, eliminated in the first round by the world number 1, Iga Swiatek, poured out on the loneliness of the Ukrainian players. First grateful to Wimbledon, they would like to receive more support from the circuit, starting with its big names.

“Actually, you’re not interested in my game at all!” »

” For them [les joueurs interdits de participer au Grand Chelem londonien]it’s as if they lost their job, she breathed. But me, I feel a lot of terrible things and, compared to that, losing a chance to play in a tournament is nothing. »

For their part, the Russian players are struggling to hide their irritation at being, again and again, brought back to war. “Actually, you’re not interested in my game at all!” », launched Karen Khachanov, Sunday, after his victory in the first round to a journalist questioning him on the decision of the ATP. “I would be lying if I said that the situation does not affect merecognized the world number 25. Everyone says we [les joueurs russes et biélorusses] are responsible, even if we are not. »

“You know, the war is at the gates of my country, so I don’t care a bit about points and rankings”

Summoned – by the Ukrainian players – to take a clear stand against Vladimir Putin’s regime, the Russian nationals on the circuit are walking on eggshells. It is difficult to express yourself when your actions and gestures are scrutinized both by the authorities in your country and abroad. “If I say one thing, I will be criticized, if I say the opposite, it will be criticized”underlined the Belarusian Victoria Azarenka, former world number 1.

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Like the other players concerned, the world number 2, Daniil Medvedev, does not intend to bring the Wimbledon case before the Court of Arbitration for Sport. “There might be room to file an appeal; but these decisions [concernant les joueurs russes à Wimbledon] are not in my purview and I will not go to court for it”said Medvedev, upon his arrival in Paris.

All these questions may seem trivial in relation to the situation in Ukraine. Big favorite of the tournament among women, the Polish Iga Swiatek tried on Tuesday to refocus the debate. “You know, the war is at the gates of my country, so I don’t care a bit about points and rankings”, insisted the world number 1, who has been playing for three months with the colors of Ukraine pinned to the cap. “I know that Russian and Belarusian players are not responsible for what happens in their country, but sport is often instrumentalized by politicians. »

Aware that as athletes, she and her circuit comrades have an impact on public opinion, the one who won the 2020 edition of Roland-Garros concludes: “It would be good if the decision makers take decisions to stop the Russian aggression. »

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