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message Paul McGrath: Wimbledon were right to ban Russians - and other sports should follow their lead

Russian and Belarusian tennis players have been competing on the ATP and WTA Tours under a neutral flag since Russian leader Vladimir Putin launched his brutal war in Ukraine.

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Paul McGrath in Wexford. Photo by Owen Breslin

Paul McGrath in Wexford. Photo by Owen Breslin

Paul McGrath in Wexford. Photo by Owen Breslin

Ireland legend Paul McGrath believes Wimbledon chiefs were right to ban Russian and Belarusian players from playing in their tournament this summer, as he urged other sports to follow their lead.

Russian and Belarusian tennis players have been competing on the ATP and WTA Tours under a neutral flag since Russian leader Vladimir Putin launched his brutal war in Ukraine at the end of February.

Yet Wimbledon broke with that policy when they announced last month a complete ban on Russian and Belarusian players, as they tried to implement advice from the UK government over the issue.

Now Ireland soccer great McGrath has backed that decision, as he told sundayworld.com that sport needs to take a stand to support the people of Ukraine.

"It was 100 per-cent the right decision," declared McGrath. "None of us want to see sports people banned from events, but we have to do something to send a message to Putin.

"I would like to see other sports make a stand and say Russian players can't compete until this madness comes to an end because what we have seen on our TV screens over the last few weeks has been horrendous.

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Women carrying food products walk by a destroyed apartment building in Borodyanka, Ukraine, Wednesday, April 6, 2022. Ukrainian authorities gathered their dead and collected evidence of Russian atrocities on the ruined outskirts of Kyiv, as the two sides geared up Wednesday for what could be a climactic push by Moscow's forces to seize the country's industrial east. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Women carrying food products walk by a destroyed apartment building in Borodyanka, Ukraine, Wednesday, April 6, 2022. Ukrainian authorities gathered their dead and collected evidence of Russian atrocities on the ruined outskirts of Kyiv, as the two sides geared up Wednesday for what could be a climactic push by Moscow's forces to seize the country's industrial east. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Women carrying food products walk by a destroyed apartment building in Borodyanka, Ukraine, Wednesday, April 6, 2022. Ukrainian authorities gathered their dead and collected evidence of Russian atrocities on the ruined outskirts of Kyiv, as the two sides geared up Wednesday for what could be a climactic push by Moscow's forces to seize the country's industrial east. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

"Women and children should never be targeted in the way they have been in this needless war and while it is a shame for sports people to get caught up in it, what else can we do?

"I agree that sport and politics never mix well, but there are exceptional circumstances and we have to do everything we can to stop this madness in Ukraine.

"People might say it's not fair to ban a Russian player from Wimbledon, but if you ware looking for fairness in the world, the images we are seeing on our TV screens every night confirm fairness is not part of the plan Russia are carrying out right now."

Wimbledon authorities have received limited support for their decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players, with Scotland's Andy Murray the latest player to come out in opposition to the policy.

"I'm not supportive of players getting banned," the former world number one told reporters in Spain.

"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 something happened to one of the players or their families. I don't think there's a right answer.

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Daniil Medvedev. Russian and Belarusian players will not be allowed to compete at this year’s Wimbledon, tournament organisers have announced.

Daniil Medvedev. Russian and Belarusian players will not be allowed to compete at this year’s Wimbledon, tournament organisers have announced.

Daniil Medvedev. Russian and Belarusian players will not be allowed to compete at this year’s Wimbledon, tournament organisers have announced.

"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 to them.

"But I also know some of the people who work at Wimbledon, and I know how difficult a position they were in.

"I feel for everyone, feel for the players that can't play, and I don't support one side or the other."

There has been some support for Wimbledon's position, especially from Ukrainians within tennis, but the reaction has been largely negative, with the ATP and WTA both deciding whether to impose penalties.

Rafael Nadal, who has won two of his 21 grand slam singles titles at Wimbledon called the ban "very unfair".

Speaking ahead of his return to action in the Spanish capital, Nadal told reporters: "I think it's very unfair (on) my Russian tennis mates, my colleagues. It's not their fault what's happening in this moment with the war."

Action against Wimbledon and the preceding grass-court tournaments run by the Lawn Tennis Association could include the removal of ranking points.

Nadal, who is a member of the ATP Player Council, added: "The 2,000 points, whenever we go to the grand slams, they are really important and we have to go to those tournaments. So we will have to see the measures that we take.

"At the end of the day, what happens in our game, it doesn't have any importance when we can see so many people dying and suffering and seeing the bad situation they are having in Ukraine."

World number one Novak Djokovic reiterated his opposition to the ban, saying: "I still stand by my position that I don't support the decision. I think it's just not fair, it's not right, but it is what it is.

"They are entitled to make the decision and now I guess it's on the player council, the tour management, to really decide along with the players what is the best solution in this situation, whether they keep the points, protect the points, take away 50 per cent of the points, or whatever."

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