Wimbledon’s ban on Russian players puts punishment where it isn’t warranted

The decision by Wimbledon officials to ban top stars from Russia and Belarus from this summer’s premier grass tennis tournament is short-sighted and unfair, even if it might satisfy those who want to bring maximum pressure to bear on Russian leader Vladimir Putin for the atrocities his forces are committing in Ukraine.

A boycott of Russian exports and a massive freeze on Russia’s ability to engage in international banking are necessary to deny Putin the funds he needs to continue prosecuting his unprovoked war. But banning top-ranked tennis stars like men’s world No. 2 Daniil Medvedev of Russia and Aryna Sabalenka and Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, among others, does nothing to help Ukraine and inflicts harm against athletes who appear to bear no responsibility for the war.


The only useful purpose the ban might present would be to help awaken Russians to the reality of their nation’s crimes in Ukraine. When they see their favorite tennis players are banned, while they increasingly feel the pain of international economic sanctions, the potential rises for them to start challenging Putin’s propaganda and identify him, not the West, as the problem.

Few Russians so far have dared to speak out against Putin, though, perhaps because they know that doing so can lead to arrest. Some of his loudest critics have been imprisoned, poisoned, tortured or assassinated.

Wimbledon officials are expecting way too much if they were hoping that such a ban would bring Putin to his senses. Those players have families at home who could suffer if they were to speak out. Their assets could be seized. They themselves could face an arrest order should they go back home.

Wimbledon officials reportedly feared that a victory by Medvedev could be used by Putin to burnish his domestic image and tout Russian sports superiority at a time when its military has faced one humiliating defeat after another in Ukraine. The presentation of the trophy by the duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, would confer an inadvertent form of royal recognition for Putin and Russia.

But the net effect is to impose a form of collective punishment on all Russians in a way that resembles the distorted way the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel has led to Israeli professors being banned from U.S. academic appearances merely because they’re Israeli — regardless of where they stand on Israeli settlements or the military occupation of the West Bank.

China has, for years, been engaged in mass arrests and re-education of its Uyghur population.

The program is condemned worldwide, but if collective punishment is appropriate for Russians, could 1.4 billion Chinese be next?

The potential is limitless for inflicting punishment on people in autocratic countries who have no truly democratic way to choose their leaders. They don’t deserve to be banned abroad for the egregious actions their leaders take.

— St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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