(Reuters) – The ATP on Wednesday fined Britain’s Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) 820,000 pounds ($1 million) for banning male players from Russia and Belarus from this year’s summer grasscourt events ahead of the Championships over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Players were banned from the UK grass-court tournaments held in the build-up to Wimbledon, which became the first Grand Slam tournament to ban individual competitors from the two countries — a move that was condemned by the men’s and women’s tours.
“The LTA is deeply disappointed with this,” the LTA said in a statement.
“The ATP, in its finding, has shown no recognition of the exceptional circumstances created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, or the international sporting community and UK Government’s response to that invasion.
“The ATP appear to regard this matter as a straightforward breach of their rules — with a surprising lack of empathy shown for the situation in Ukraine, and a clear lack of understanding of the unique circumstances the LTA faced.”
The ATP had said in April that the “unilateral decision” by Wimbledon to exclude players from Russia and Belarus was unfair and could potentially set a damaging precedent for the game.
“We stand by our original position on this matter, that unilateral decision-making by members of the ATP Tour threatens our ability to operate as a global sport,” the ATP said in a statement.
“We believe that the measures taken protect the long-term future of our game and its commitment to merit-based participation, without discrimination, for individual athletes.”
UK Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan said on Wednesday that the vast majority of the international sporting community had stood “shoulder to shoulder” in condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
“The UK has taken a world-leading role to build this international response,” Donelan said. “We are clear that sport cannot be used to legitimise this deadly invasion, and that athletes representing the Russian or Belarusian states should be banned from competing in other countries.
“Despite widespread condemnation, the international tennis tours are determined to be outcasts in this, with investment in the growth of our domestic game hampered as a result.
“This is the wrong move by the ATP and WTA. I urge them to think carefully about the message this sends and to reconsider.”
Earlier this year, the LTA was slapped with a fine of 620,000 pounds by the WTA, which governs women’s tennis.
“The financial impact of both this (ATP) fine and the WTA’s fine will have a material impact on the LTA’s ability to develop and host tennis in this country,” the LTA said.
“We had intended to host a number of ATP Challenger level events to give more opportunities to lower ranked players in the first quarter of 2023 and will now not be able to do this, particularly given the possibility of further fines.
“We will carefully consider our response and we await the outcome of our appeal against the WTA’s decision and sanction.”
($1 = 0.8212 pounds)
(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru, additional reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; Editing by Toby Chopra/Peter Rutherford)