It’s been terribly nice, as always. No one thinking twice about joining long queues for the £9.50 Pimms. Everyone reducing waste by recycling their blue plastic cups. And, amid the strawberries and cream, barely a trace of proper solidarity for the nation which should be at the beating heart of this Wimbledon.
The insipid words of Anne Keothavong, All-England Club board member and BBC pundit, on day one of the tournament encapsulated the anaemic – and frankly, pathetic – perspective on Ukrainians being forced to stomach Russians competing alongside them here. ‘It’s just something we have to learn to live with and move on,’ the former British No 1 said, as the topic was quickly dispensed with. ‘It’s not easy, for anyone.’
Russia was preparing a missile attacking Lviv at the time. Six died. Dozens were injured. But on the broadcasting platform in SW19, talk turned to the rather dire weather forecast for south-west London. Everyone moved on.
An ounce of curiosity and compassion would have turned the dismal superficiality of that chat into a conversation about one of the most vicious little consequences of allowing Russians back into the fold at Wimbledon.
Every single time that Elina Svitolina, Martya Kostyuk and other Ukrainian players step into a locker room, they know that they may well encounter representatives of the nation which is routinely killing their compatriots. No sport pitches Ukrainians and Russians against each other at the elite end quite like tennis.
Ukrainians including Elina Svitolina (left) and Marta Kostyuk (right) know they may well encounter representatives of the nation which is routinely killing their compatriots
The PR cover for letting the Russians in Wimbledon is an insult to our intelligence (Andrey Rublev pictured during his quarter-final with Novak Djokovic)
Allowing them into the championships legitimises a country which has devastated so many
It has handed Vladimir Putin (pictured) the opportunity which comes with having two Russians in the men’s quarter-finals and dotted all over the rest of these championships
This kind of human consideration is beyond the imagination of the spineless men’s and women’s tours – organisations so absorbed with the sensitivities of Russian players that they would have stripped Wimbledon of ranking points, and relevance, had the tournament excluded them again, as it did last year.
It would have helped if the All-England club had displayed the vision, 12 months ago, to mount a passionate and convincing lobbying campaign, showing why, in the name of humanity, the Russians must be excluded. But now they find themselves lumbered with the rank cowardice of the WTA and ATP tours, handing Putin the glorious propaganda opportunity which comes with having two men in yesterday’s men’s quarter-finals and others dotted all over these championships.
The PR cover for letting the Russians in is an insult to our intelligence. We are being asked to accept that these players are legitimate because they have signed a ‘declaration’ agreeing that they don’t represent Russia (or Belarus) and won’t accept money from them.
Risible. Veronika Kudermetova, the Russian women’s 12 seed, is sponsored by Tatneft, a Russian fossil fuel company which has been accused of directly funding the Russian war effort by supplying Russian forces with fuel and tyres, and a subsidiary – Management Company Tatneft-Neftekhim LLC – has been sanctioned by the European Union.
As Kudermetova laughs in the face of sport, we somehow all find ourselves complicit in tennis’ deceit, bending over backwards to ensure we afford appropriate respect to Russian players whose success is allowing Putin’s fascistic state apparatus to maintain a cloak of legitimacy.
It seemed inappropriate, for example, to ask someone as young as Russian Mirra Andreeva, the ultra-confident 16-year-old Russian – but a mere girl – whether she stood with Ukrainians, as she journeyed to the women’s singles fourth round.
To ask Andreeva why she follows the Russian singer Grigoriy Leps, an active Putin supporter on Twitter. To ask her why she has ‘liked’ a post in which Leps congratulated Putin on his birthday and similarly validated a comic video, by another Putin enthusiast, mocking Volodymyr Zelensky.
After Andreeva had beaten Anastasia Potapova, a Spartak Moscow-supporting Russian, she would not even acknowledge that Wimbledon supporters had welcomed Russians like her. ‘I don’t feel anything. I’m just playing tennis and that’s it,’ she said to that question, at her press conference.
Victoria Azarenka was offended to be booed by the Wimbledon crowd on Sunday evening
Mirra Andreeva (pictured) clearly felt no gratitude for being at Wimbledon given the way she threw a racket and refused to shake the umpire’s hand when she lost on Monday
She was rather less coy when it came to discussing the huge support for her in the Russian city of Krasnoyarsk. ‘A lot of people there are supporting me,’ she said, name-checking the city. ‘They are posting the stories. They are tagging me everywhere. Of course, it’s great.’
Yes – this is precisely how allowing these players into these championships legitimises and assists a country which has devastated so many. This is why personal anti-war sentiments of Russian players are irrelevant, though the game lacks the intellectual faculty to grasp that.
Andreeva clearly felt no gratitude for being here, given her refusal to shake the umpire’s hand when she lost. Neither did the grotesquely self-absorbed Victoria Azarenka, from the Russian stooge nation of Belarus, who was most offended to be booed on Sunday after she had lost to Svitolina. ‘I haven’t done anything wrong,’ complained Azarenka.
An hour in a room listening to Svitolina or Kostyuk might help her to locate a little self-awareness. The look on Svitolina’s face said more than most when she was asked if this response had been unfair on Azarenka. ‘No’ was the answer, though she didn’t want to bring on holy hell by actually saying so.
The All-England club has ticked the boxes with its commendable small gestures of support – donating £1 per ticketholder (£500,000) for Ukraine crisis response funds and covering accommodation costs of Ukrainian players.
The lack of solidarity for Ukraine at Wimbledon has been shameful (Svitolina pictured)
But where is the burning sense of injustice about a forced complicity with a craven stance which shames tennis? This fortnight called for something remarkable. A sea of blue and gold flowers, replacing the purple and white, perhaps. An acknowledgement that the Ukraine foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba was right to say that Russian players should not be here. Something from the All-England club to say, ‘not in our name.’
Instead, it took Svitolina to place Ukraine at the centre of these championships yesterday with a performance of such outstanding and moving courage against top seed Iga Swiatek, who wore the blue and yellow ribbon which she says she will be pinned to her cap until there is peace.
Svitolina also gifted the All-England club the glorious moment and narrative which, until now, these rather lame championships have so sorely lacked.
There were no large Ukraine flags on Centre Court for her because they’re banned, but when Svitolina had won, a woman sneaked a small one out of her bag and discreetly waved it. A TV camera captured the moment. That was all.
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Carey chants not the cricket I know
The Headingley outcome lifts the hearts of all of us for whom Old Trafford next week will be a coveted chance to sit in the arena of this extraordinary series. A contest still gloriously alive. A time for optimism. But it was still hard to share all the enthusiasm for the Western Terrace’s role in that win.
A mass rendition of ‘Alex Carey what a w****r’ and the endless ‘Stand up if you hate Carey’ might be some people’s idea of glorious partisanship but it’s not the cricket I know.
Chants were aimed at Australia’s Alex Carey (pictured) during the third Test in Headingley
GOAT debate is not just about numbers
Prepare for more GOAT talk this weekend, with Novak Djokavic looking terribly pleased with himself. The ‘greatest of all time’ is not just about numbers, arithmetic and titles held.
It’s about a deep emotional response to a champion who wins again and again and again. An individual about whom you might say, 20 years from now: ‘I was there.’ Top five: Federer, Borg, McEnroe, Nadal, Djokovic. In that order’.
Novak Djokovic holds the all-time record for most Grand Slams won, and the Serbian could take his tally to 24 on Sunday if the 36-year-old is to win his eighth Wimbledon title
Many obstacles to success in football
The weather was glorious and the outcome devastating on the Spring evening in 2012 when my team, Wrexham, failed to get the win at Fleetwood which might have seen us promoted from the non-league.
We amassed 98 points that season but Fleetwood, bankrolled by utilities entrepreneur Andrew Pilley, won automatic promotion instead. Pilley was jailed for 13 years last week. Turns out this odious cretin had funded the club by ripping off utilities customers for years. There are many obstacles to success in football. Criminality is one of them.
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