The organizers of Wimbledon, whose main draw kicks off on June 27, have found themselves in a quandary over their controversial decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players in protest of the invasion of Ukraine.
Banned players include current men’s world number one Daniil Medvedev, world number eight Andrey Rublev and women’s world number six Arina Sobolenko.
Both the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) punished Wimbledon for this ban by stripping the tournament of ranking points.
As one of the world’s most prestigious tennis tournaments turned into a high-level showcase event, more players dropped out of the tournament, including Naomi Osaka and Eugenie Bouchard (showing how a boycotted event can be boycotted at the same time). participants).
Such boycotts regularly occur in high-profile sports as event organizers and attendees use its global reach to draw attention to human rights violations.
But boycott actions and retaliatory actions, including at Wimbledon, often do more harm to individual athletes who are citizens of those countries than to the condemned regime or event sponsors.
See also: Is it right to remove Russian tennis players from Wimbledon?
Sports and human rights
Former Australian golfer Greg Norman drew worldwide condemnation for his statement that “we all made mistakes” when discussing the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi orchestrated by Saudi Arabia.
It hasn’t gone unnoticed that Norman is also the CEO of Saudi-backed LIV Golf Investments, which launched a golf tour for the PGA’s super-wealthy.
Norman’s refusal to kill and the appalling worldwide reaction to his comment show that sport can both highlight and ignore human rights violations.
Countries accused of violating these rights have found strategic, proactive approaches to counter punitive, reactive, and short-term methods of economic boycotts. And sport plays an important role in this, like the example of Qatar, which uses the World Cup as a confirmation of its authority and ability to host a globally significant event.
Such investment in “sportwashing” – using sports as a thin shell to present a purified, friendlier version of a political regime or organization – is big business. The global impact of sport can be a vehicle for soft diplomacy and legitimacy.
November’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar remains the subject of a decade-long debate over how FIFA can award the world’s biggest sporting event to a country with a dubious human rights record.
Now the situation has only worsened due to evidence of mass exploitation of migrant workers building Cup stadiums.
While Australia may be less extreme in nature, it is not without human rights deficiencies in sport.
Why, for example, are Indigenous Australians still under-represented at the elite and community levels in most Australian sports? Why are Australian women not leaders in coaching? Why is there currently only one openly gay professional male football player in Australia and no openly gay AFL players? Why do so many members of the Australian gymnastics and swimming teams report violence and toxic cultures that started when they were children?
We must take into account that even playing sports is a universal human right in accordance with the Olympic and European Sports Charters and other internationally ratified declarations and treaties.
However, most countries do not fully recognize and implement this concept in policy and practice, as access to participation in sport is often clouded by complexity and hypocrisy.
More: The Olympics have always been a platform for protest. The ban on hand gestures and kneeling ignores their history
Did the Wimbledon boycott work?
The organizers of Wimbledon are clearly trying to convey the idea that the invasion of the sovereign territory of another state is unacceptable.
However, while the tournament may draw worldwide attention to its stance, has banning players from invading countries proven to be an effective means of protecting and defending human rights?
The answer is a resounding “no”.
The ban signaled that Wimbledon organizers were taking a stand against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But defending a position does not protect and does not protect.
In this case, it hurts those who cannot be blamed for the war (banned tennis players), and the unforeseen consequences (no ranking points) harm the wider community of professional tennis players.
Read more: French Open: Understanding Why Russian and Belarusian Tennis Players Compete Despite the Wimbledon Ban
While sport can indeed be a valuable platform for advancing human rights, we must also recognize that it doesn’t take long for sport to become exclusive, divisive and controversial.
It is important to note that the use of sport to promote human rights requires that the protection of human rights in Australia, Russia or Qatar be measured by the same criteria, recognizing that more work needs to be done to ensure that every country’s sports environment is inclusive and free from discrimination.
In doing so, we can truly recognize sport as the universal human right that it is, and it can remain true to its core purpose of celebrating human potential and achievement.