BY NOEL YAXLEY
It looks like people will be forced to undergo a bizarre act of compliance if they are to play at this year’s Wimbledon. Judging by the press coverage coming out, this certainly appears to be the case for Daniil Medvedev. The world number one tennis player and Russian native is being pressured to openly denounce Vladmir Putin in order to grace the lawns of the hallowed All England Club this summer. A headline in the Times reports that:
Western institutions have stepped forward to signal their disdain and contempt for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. They wish to ridicule the Kremlin. One way of doing this is by decimating its economy. From boycotting Russia from major sporting competitions to sanctioning oligarch football owners, western politicians are doing everything they can to disassociate themselves with Putin. Yet tightening the economic straitjacket is not enough for one politician. What’s needed is some good old fashioned coercion. This is the position taken by Nigel Huddleston.
An Under-Secretary of State for Sport, Huddleston wants to see sport take a firmer stand against Putin. In recent comments made to the Department for the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Huddleston discussed how to deal with Russian players at Wimbledon. He wants to ban spectators waving the Russian flag.
In my opinion, this is not the end of the world. But it was what he said next that I found chilling. According to Huddleston, we need to “go beyond that” and get “some assurance” from players that they are “not supporters of Vladmir Putin.”
This is something I find deeply concerning and so should You. It is after all compelled speech. Fall short of groupthink and expect to find your Wimbledon pass revoked.
Think about this for a minute.
People are being asked not to engage in a loyalty oath but a disloyalty oath. Swear your allegiance with the group or be damned. Or in this case, turfed out of SW19. The idea that we need some form of ‘assurance’ is akin to a call for police thought. Pressurising sportsmen and women — indeed anyone — to make a contrived political statement smacks of moral coercion and has no place in a free and liberal society.
By making these remarks, Huddleston is treading a thin line — one which lends credence to the horseshoe theory. Forcing someone to categorically state their opposition to a political leader is something one might expect from an authoritarian dictator – say, Putin. Yet to the best of my knowledge, Putin has not ordered Russia’s sportsmen to denounce the West.
We have to be careful here. Hate the sin not the sinner. Ordinary Russian people are not to blame for Putin’s actions. If we were all to follow Huddleston’s logic, we would be hauling our Russian friends and colleagues before a tribunal to demand they condemn Putin. In a free society, Russian citizens should be free to hold whatever views they wish of Putin — no matter how reprehensible some of us might find them. People should not be forced to agree with you.
Yet that is not what is happening across the west. Ordinary Russians are being called out and ridiculed for refusing to condemn Putin — as evidenced when the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra cancelled the conductor Valery Gergiev for engaging in wrong-think. Meanwhile In Russia, thousands of Muscovites have been arrested for expressing their opposition to the war — sorry, ‘special military operation’.
None of these people have committed a crime, despite Russia’s hastily drafted and draconian new ‘False Information’ law and excessive restriction on freedom of conscience and assembly.
If Huddleston is going to be consistent, then I assume he will have no problem demanding the Qatar football team denounce their country’s leaders for their role in the deaths of estimated thousands of migrant workers who built the stadiums that’ll host the next FIFA World Cup? This junior member of our democratically elected government should know the answer.
Let’s hope he gives us some ‘assurance’.
Noel Yaxley is a writer based in Nelson’s county. After graduating in politics, he turned his attention to writing. Noel is primarily interested in covering issues around free speech and the latest lunacy in the culture wars. He writes regularly for The Critic magazine and contributes to a number of other outlets such as Reaction and Areo magazine.