Princess Kate will hand out Wimbledon trophies regardless of players’ nationalities

Last year, Wimbledon banned all Russian and Belarusian tennis players from the Slam tournament. It was said that the Johnson government heavily leaned on the All-England club and the club was convinced that it would be a public relations disaster if a Russian or Belarusian player won the championship, besides which, the government would probably put up a fight about issuing visas to Russian and Belarusian nationals. Tennis’s governing bodies weren’t happy about the ban and Wimbledon was stripped of its ranking points, which meant that when Elena Rybakina, a Russian-born Moscow resident (who plays under Kazakhstan’s flag), won the ladies’ championship, she didn’t get the rankings boost she deserved.

Currently, the All-England hasn’t officially made a decision about whether they’ll ban Russians and Belarusians this year, but the governing bodies are once again leaning heavily on the Slam and there are rumors that no one will be banned this year. In addition to all of the politics of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the politicization of tennis players, Kensington Palace decided to make last year’s ban all about the then-Duchess of Cambridge, now the Princess of Wales. It was claimed last year that the All-England banned Russians and Belarusians to avoid “embarrassing” Kate, the patron of the club. One article even claimed: “The prospect of embarrassing the All England Club’s patron – given her emotional investment in the sport – by asking her to hand the men’s singles trophy to Daniil Medvedev was simply too much to bear.”

Which brings up an interesting argument: is handing out a trophy a political act or a political endorsement? Because if it is, Kate handed the Venus Rosewater dish to a Russian citizen and the gentleman’s trophy to an anti-Vaxx Serbian last year. Was that Kate implicitly politically endorsing the politics of Russia and anti-science, anti-vaxx idiocy? As I argued last year, it felt like Kate was inserting herself to the larger issue and trying to take credit for being “the reason” why Wimbledon banned those players. It was a dumb move. It looks like she’s not going to make the same mistake this year:

The Princess of Wales intends to continue with the tradition of presenting the Wimbledon singles trophies this year regardless of whether the champions are from Russia or Belarus. Despite concerns over a high-profile member of the royal family handing over the silverware during the invasion of Ukraine by military forces from Russia and Belarus, sources have said that the princess plans to fulfil her duties as the All England Club’s patron.

Wimbledon organisers are expected to lift the ban on entrants from Russia and Belarus in the next two weeks. Players from both nations will be permitted to compete as neutral competitors, with no mention of where they hail from beside their names on scoreboards and television graphics.

The All England Club has kept Kensington Palace updated during the long decision-making process. While there were initial concerns among some club officials about the propaganda that could potentially be derived from the princess standing on Centre Court alongside a champion from Russia or Belarus, there has been no indication from the palace that the princess will not attend the women’s singles final on July 15 and the men’s singles final on July 16.

Last year the princess presented the women’s singles trophy, the Venus Rosewater Dish, to a player born in Moscow. Elena Rybakina, 23, was allowed to compete in the 2022 championships because she has represented Kazakhstan since 2018. “She congratulated me,” Rybakina said afterwards. “She said that I played really well. I was in shock so maybe half [of it] I didn’t hear. But for sure she was super nice. It was amazing to get the trophy from her.”

The attitude shift of organisers this year comes after 12 months of Russians and Belarusians competing on the men’s and women’s tours as neutral athletes without making any pro-war gestures. British tennis as a whole had also come under considerable pressure from the ATP and WTA with more than £1 million of fines for last year’s ban and the threat of the LTA’s expulsion from tour membership should the ban continue this year.

[From The Times]

This is fine. In fact, this should have been the message last year from Kensington Palace: don’t politicize Kate, she’s just there to enjoy tennis and hand out trophies, and trophy presentations are not political endorsements. The whole idea of making the ban all about Kate was offensive beyond belief, so it’s good to see some backtracking.

As for Wimbledon allowing Russians and Belarusians again this year… I think it’s the right call, especially given how well those players are currently doing on the two tours. Russians Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev and Karen Khachanov are three of the most popular players on the men’s tour and all three are highly ranked. Aryna Sabalenka, a Belarusian, just won the Australian Open and she’s quite popular too. I heard a rumor that the Russian players offered to sign an explicit anti-war memo in an attempt to convince Wimbledon to let them play, only Wimbledon turned down their offer.

Photos courtesy of Avalon Red, Cover Images, Backgrid.