WTA Chief Steve Simon is undoubtedly one of the bravest men out in the tennis fraternity. The American has been an outspoken person about various issues and has never feared to stand alone in decisions that are morally right but others are afraid to speak about.
Simon was the first to take a firm stand during the Peng Shuai case suspending tournaments in China and Hong Kong for not allowing the player to communicate freely with WTA. While ATP has cowardly added the tournaments in China to its calendar, WTA remains firm that they won’t play in the region.
With the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia that has been going on for nearly 3 weeks now, Russian athletes have been targeted in sports globally with the Russian federations banned across sports. Tennis also decided on the same thing and have suspended the Russian Tennis Federation making the Russian players ‘neutral athletes’ playing without any flag to their names.
With reports emerging over Daniil Medvedev and his compatriots facing a possible ban from the 2022 Wimbledon Championships, Steve expressed his thoughts on the matter saying that it is not good to mix politics with sport and there are other big issues at hand.
“You never know what the future may bring. But I can tell you that we have never banned athletes from participating in our tour as the result of political positions their leadership may take. So it would take something very, very significant for that to change, but again we don’t know where this is going. It will force us to change our position because obviously, we have to follow the rules of the government,” said Simon during his interview with BBC Sport.
“Don’t pick on the athletes” says Steve Simon
With the final decision yet to come for Russian athletes wishing to participate in Wimbledon, Simon highlighted that the conflict in Ukraine is nothing to do with the athletes who are suffering because of the decision of their country’s government.
“I feel very, very strongly that again these individual athletes should not be the ones that are being penalised by the decisions of authoritarian leadership that is obviously doing terrible, reprehensible things. But if that happens, which is again part of the overall strategy of making Russia, and Russian citizens, pay the consequence for the decision their government has made, then it won’t be something that we support.
“We are hopeful that they will refrain from that because I think there are an awful lot of other issues that go with it. I don’t think you can just pick on the athletes. What are you going to do with the [Russian] refugees that come in? Are you going to treat the refugees differently than the athletes? I’m hoping that we continue with the sanctions, we continue doing everything we can to get peace, but again these people are the innocent victims of that, and being isolated as a result of these decisions I don’t think it’s fair,” added Simon.
While Simon alone cannot help the athletes to participate, starting a conversation with a practical approach can certainly help the cause of the innocent players who have accepted all terms laid to them by their sporting authorities and federations while their own federations remain suspended.