Wimbledon's ban on Russian and Belarusian players in the wake of the Russia's invasion of Ukraine has drawn a wide range of reactions from the tennis fraternity.
Tennis legend Martina Navratilova, one of the most successful players at the All England Club with nine singles titles, joined the growing chorus of voices criticizing the decision.
Speaking in a recent interview with LBC Radio, Navratilova said Wimbledon's decision was unfair as many players from Russia and Belarus have already expressed their opposition to the war.
According to Navratilova, the only course of action left for the athletes is to denounce their respective countries and start living elsewhere. Navratilova, who sought asylum in the US back in 1975 due to Czechoslovakia's totalitarian policies, said she could relate to the players' emotions.
“The Russian and Belarusian players, some have even expressed, vocalized, their opposition to the war,” Navratilova said. “The only option therefore now for them to play would be to leave their country."
"That’s something that I had to do in 1975," she continued. "Because of a totalitarian regime and now we are asking them to do the same, because of politics, because of optics.”
Navratilona said Wimbledon's decision threatens to destroy tennis' "democratic" values.
“Exclusion like this, through no fault of these players, is not the way to go… I think it’s the wrong decision,” Martina Navratilova said. “Tennis is such a democratic sport. It is difficult when you see politics destroy it. And as much as I feel for the Ukrainian players and the Ukrainian people — it’s just horrific what’s going on — I think this is just going further than needed."
"As a player growing up, Wimbeldon is the one you dream about the most" - Martina Navratilova
Martina Navratilova went on to highlight how Wimbledon is setting a dangerous precedent and potentially crushing the dreams of many aspiring players.
The 18-time Major champion added that it was a "big ask" for authorities to expect players to leave their respective countries behind just to play a tennis tournament.
"As a player growing up, this is the one you dream about the most. And now because of politics not to be able to play," she continued. "Unless you denounce your country and leave, and risk your family’s well being as well as your own, maybe never to be able to return to Russia. It’s a big ask for the players to ask them this.”