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Billie Jean King Addresses Wimbledon’s Ban of Russian, Belarusian Players From 2022 Tournament

In the aftermath of Wimbledon’s decision to ban Russian and Belarusian tennis players from this year’s tournament, Billie Jean King has issued a statement denouncing Wednesday’s polarizing announcement.

The 78-year-old tennis legend took to social media Thursday to share her thoughts on the matter, which was announced by the Lawn Tennis Association and All England Club Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in response to Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

“The decision of the LTA and the AELTC regarding the Russian and Belarusian players at this year’s tournament was a difficult and complex undertaking, and I appreciate the challenges and pressures they are facing,” King wrote. “One of the guiding principles of the founding of the WTA was that any girl in the world, if she was good enough, would have a place to compete. I stood by that in 1973 and I stand by that today. 

“I cannot support the banning of individual athletes from any tournament, simply because of their nationality. Tennis is stronger when we stand together, and our continued support of the Tennis Plays for Peace initiative, which provides meaningful financial support and resources to Ukraine, needs to be our focus.”

The AELTC cited its reasoning behind the ban in its announcement, saying that it is the organization’s “responsibility to play our part in the widespread efforts of Government, industry, sporting and creative institutions to limit Russia’s global influence through the strongest means possible,” given the profile of Wimbledon in the United Kingdom and across the globe.

The Women’s Tennis Association and the Association of Tennis Professionals issued separate statements shortly after the decision was announced. Both organizations echoed King’s disapproval of the ban and criticized the discrimination being shown toward the affected athletes. The WTA said it is “very disappointed” by the ban, while the ATP labeled the move as a “violation of our agreement with Wimbledon that states that player entry is based solely on ATP Rankings.”

The AELTC did, however, leave room for the possibility of a reconciliation, noting there is a chance the decision could be reversed “if circumstances change materially between now and June.”

King, a 39-time Grand Slam champion and International Tennis Hall of Famer, is the latest titan of the sport to weigh in on the ban. Novak Djokovic, the current men’s No. 1 in the world, said earlier Thursday he believed the move is a mistake.

“I know how much emotional trauma it leaves,” Djokovic said, via CNN. “In Serbia, we all know what happened in 1999. In the Balkans, we have had many wars in recent history. However, I cannot support the decision of Wimbledon, I think it is crazy. When politics interferes with sport, the result is not good.”

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