LTA chief with strong ties to Vladimir Putin administration welcome at Wimbledon

Wimbledon: Martina Navratilova ‘devastated’ by ban

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Wimbledon has insisted it is not double standards to ban Russian and Belarusian players this summer – but welcome the LTA chairman who works for a company whose major shareholders are Russian oligarchs.

And All England Club chairman Ian Hewitt stated the suspension of the tennis stars was due to a “truly exceptional situation” and would not be extended to other individuals or countries.

Spectators and members from Russia and Belarus will be welcomed in June though all media from the two countries will be refused. Negotiations continue over coaches and trainers for non-Russian players.

“The rationale behind our decision is the high-level profile which can be for its players succeeding or participating in Wimbledon can give to support a propaganda machine of the Russian regime,” explained Hewitt. “And that rationale is not applied to spectators and others including our members.”

LTA chief Mervyn Davies – now Baron Davies of Abersoch – is also the chairman of London-based investment firm LetterOne, which was founded by Russian billionaire oligarch Mikhail Fridman.

The EU has claimed that Fridman, who has had his shares frozen, has “strong ties to the administration of Vladimir Putin”.Davies has refused to step back from his position.

Asked about Davies, a former Labour government minister under Gordon Brown, Hewitt said: “I’m not going to comment on his position but in terms of it: ‘Is he welcome here? Yes he is.

“Our decision is in relation to players only and their participation in Wimbledon and how that is presented. It’s only in relation to the players.”

Hewitt insisted a precedent had not been set where others could be excluded on moral grounds.

“I hope I’ve explained why I think this is a truly exceptional situation,” he added. “In terms of the invasion of a sovereign state and the condemnation through the world’s institutions, the United Nations with over 140 nations and the specific guidance given to us. I do think those put us into a very, very exceptional situation.”

Wimbledon’s official “Official Smartphone Partner” is Chinese company OPPO under a five-year deal which sees its logo on Centre Court. China has been accused of human rights violations against Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.

“I hear the argument obviously and that is one of the reasons why we have taken very careful considerations as to whether this is the right course, but we truly believe this is an exceptional situation,” Hewitt reiterated. “For my part, there are at least three reasons.

“First, we have an invasion of a sovereign state with the scale and severity that it has. We have a condemnation by over 140 nations through the United Nations.

“And in our case, we have specific and direct government guidance to address matters. So those factors make it a very, very exceptional situation. And I would not want to speculate on other situations, but that those three factors for me take it into a truly exceptional situation and we have had to take a decision.”

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