At this point tennis players from Russia and Belarus already compete as neutral individuals, unaccompanied by flags or anthems when they step on the court. Their tennis federations have been suspended, and they’ve been banned from team international competition. That was a decision that the governing bodies of tennis made earlier this month. If you were to attend a match or watch a broadcast this week at Indian Wells, there would be a blank next to Daniil Medvedev’s name instead of a Russian flag on the on-court scoreboard, an empty square next to Aryna Sabalenka’s name instead of a Belarusian flag on the broadcast.
Someone should provide this information to the United Kingdom’s sports minister, Nigel Huddleston, who sounds absolutely terrified about the mere possibility of seeing a Russian flag at Wimbledon this summer. “Absolutely, nobody flying the flag for Russia should be allowed or enabled,” he told a Parliament subcommittee on Tuesday. “We are looking at this issue of what we do with individuals and we are thinking about the implications of it, because I don’t think people would accept individuals very clearly flying the Russian flag, in particular if there is any support for Putin and his regime,” he said. He added, just to be entirely clear: “In short, would I be comfortable with a Russian athlete flying the flag of Russia? No.” OK, got it man!
But Huddleston wants to go “beyond” the removal of flags: “I think we need to have some assurance that they are not supporters of Vladimir Putin and we are considering what requirements we may need to get assurances along those lines.” I get that this is not yet official policy, that Huddleston is just kind of hysterically riffing, but perhaps “verbal denouncements of head of state” is a goofy condition to compete at a tennis tournament.
Medvedev’s professional peak—he just overtook Novak Djokovic as world No. 1—has coincided with his country’s invasion of Ukraine, and he’s been tiptoeing through what might have otherwise been a massive press rush. “We play in so many different countries. I’ve been in so many different countries as a junior and as a pro. It’s just not easy to hear all this news. I’m all for peace,” Medvedev said on February 25. His agency, I.M.G., said that no sponsors have dropped Medvedev, but that it was not an “appropriate climate for Medvedev to be searching for international sponsors,” as the Times put it. “Look, I mean, I don’t make these decisions,” he said last week when asked if it was right that he had to compete without a flag. “It’s always tough to talk on this subject for me because I just want to play tennis. We play in different countries. I want to promote my sport. I want to promote what I’m doing in my country for sure, also. And right now the situation is that that’s the only way how I can play. So that’s what I’m going to do.”
It was just a fleeting three-week reign, but Medvedev will soon lose his No. 1 world ranking, after falling apart in his third-round match against Gael Monfils on Monday. Perhaps he will suffer another indignity this summer, as he solemnly whispers “more like Vladimir Poopin” to Nigel Huddleston to earn entry into the Wimbledon draw.