Andy Murray refused to back the decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players from competing at Wimbledon – but he criticised the government for seemingly giving the All England Lawn Tennis Club no choice.
Sports stars from Russia and Belarus continue to face uncertain futures amid Vladimir Putin's widely condemned military assault on neighbouring Ukraine. Millions have fled the country, and the European response has spilled over into the sporting arena on various fronts.
Wimbledon officials announced such players will be barred from taking part in the prestigious tournament, which begins in June. It means the likes of US Open champion Daniil Medvedev, World No.4 Aryna Sabalenka and World No.8 Andrey Rublev will not featured at SW19.
Rafael Nadal labelled the ban ‘unfair’ while world No.1 Novak Djokovic compared the exclusion to his January deportation from Australia.
Murray, speaking ahead of his clash with Dominic Thiem at the Madrid Masters, was clearly emotional as he spoke on the topic which has divided the tennis world. The three-time Grand Slam champion insisted the unprecedented action was taken by the Championships because people are ‘getting murdered and killed and raped’ in Ukraine.
“It's an unbelievably complex situation," he said. "I don't think there's a right answer. I don't support one side or the other. I'm not supportive of players getting banned.
“I have spoken to some of the Russian players, I've spoken to some of the Ukrainian players. I feel really bad for the players who aren't allowed to play and I get that it will seem unfair obviously to them. I'm friendly and close with some of them and I feel bad for them.
“But I also know some of the people who work at Wimbledon as well. They do care about the players. I think that the guidance from the government was not helpful because my understanding of the guidance was that Russians and Belarusians can play if they sign a declaration that they're against the war and against the Russian regime.
“I’m not sure how comfortable I would feel if that was a decision that was taken because if something happened to one of the players or their families, that's obviously not good either.”
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However, Murray believes context must be added in order to understand the ban: “People are forgetting about the reasons for why Wimbledon or tennis or sports are in this situation, and it's because there is a war going on in Ukraine and that there is people getting murdered and killed and raped. That's the bigger picture.
“So it's a really, really difficult one. I feel for Wimbledon, I feel for the players and I feel for everyone that's affected by it in Ukraine and around the world.”
Murray, the World No. 81, is playing in Madrid for the first time since 2017 after he originally decided to sit out the entire clay-court season in order to prepare for grass. His compatriots Jack Draper and Dan Evans recorded wins against Lorenzo Sonego and Federico Delbonis respectively to open their tournament.
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