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Wimbledon bans players from Russia and Belarus from competing

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Wimbledon bans players from Russia and Belarus. Is this wise or fair? Does it set a precedent? Howard Bryant from Meadowlark Media joins us. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: I'm fine, thanks. Now, this includes some of the top-ranked players in the world, men and women. Is this just what we call virtue signaling these days by Wimbledon - the tennis club saying, we condemn the Russian invasion, and you know what we're going to do in response? We're not going to let Aryna Sabalenka play. That'll show Putin.

BRYANT: Well, it can be seen that way, but it can also be seen as the type of pressure that we say we want sports to apply in using its influence in the world. You can make the argument that the proper course here is to isolate Russia because this war needs to end, and the only way to do that is to isolate it in the most maximum of ways and to have the most prominent people pay some of the price for this and that we don't separate the individual from the country. And we've seen it with some of the team sports where the Russian flag is not held or in the case of Formula 1, where Russian teams are not allowed to compete.

The question that we have here is the precedent that this sets. Clearly, the argument has to be that the World War III-level implications with the United States getting involved, etc., is - it creates an extreme case because there are conflicts all around the world that you can get involved or not get involved in. And we've been told that sports is supposed to be separate from these conflicts, especially when you add the Olympics involved in - the number of times we've talked about China's role, and yet the Games keep going on. So what is happening here is very, very different and does create a precedent. And it's going to be very interesting to see how this is applied going forward.

SIMON: Boycotting a location in a dictatorship with internment camps like, you know, the recent Olympics in Beijing or Sochi, I understand, but - because the event confers recognition and economic reward for a regime. But how are human rights advanced by barring a Russian tennis player who, by the way - like, I looked it up. A lot of Russian tennis stars have lived in California anyway or Florida or Monaco, for a number of reasons.

BRYANT: Well, exactly. And that is the question. The argument, of course, is that someone like Vladimir Putin gets a great deal of prestige from his athletes and uses the athletes as representation of the nation and the nation's vitality and its interests. Now, once again, I understand these arguments. What I - I'm not sure how effective it's going to be or the fairness level of it, but - and also, once again, the precedent of it is that what are we actually saying? And it also suggests that we as the West are always on the right side of issues. The other thing is, too - is tennis itself. Tennis can't get itself together. What does this mean?

Now, we know that the Grand Slams can do whatever they want, but, boy, Scott Simon, if I remember correctly, they all acted in unison against the great threat of Naomi Osaka not wanting to give an interview. But Wimbledon is acting this way. The French Open has said that they are going to let the Russian players play. The United States hasn't taken a stance on this, and neither has the Australian Open. So if you're going to take this really precedent-setting extreme step, what does this mean? I think they should be on the same page. And also what does this mean for the non-Slam events? It really is something that I think hasn't been completely thought through, even though I do understand the reasoning behind it.

SIMON: Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media, thanks so much for being with us, Howard. Talk to you later.

BRYANT: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.