In May 1972, Yugoslav tennis player Nikki Pilic was the codename around which the probably biggest boycott in the history of men’s professional tennis would be built.
Pilic, who years later would represent and even be captain of the German national team, warned his country’s Federation -curiously chaired by an uncle of his- that, in the event that he advanced to the finals of a WCT (World Championship Tennis, a circuit rich in prizes and considered marginal by the International Tennis Federation) he would not participate in the Davis Cup series that Yugoslavia had to play in New Zealand. Pilic was automatically sanctioned for nine months in which he would not be able to participate in any event audited by the ITF, including the Grand Slams. Although the relatively new ATP managed to reduce that sanction to just one month, during that period the Wimbledon Tournament was to be held.
After long and fruitless negotiations, it was confirmed that more than 50 tennis players, including 13 of the 16 best in the standings, will be absent from the London SW16 classic.
Let’s imagine a similar scenario ten years ago and that players of the magnitude of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray, Berdych, Del Potro and Wawrinka, among others, miss the main event. A catastrophe.
From the organizers to the BBC itself, they imagined an unprecedented blow to the prestige of the enormous tournament.
Far from it, the public gave their verdict: the 1973 verdict was, until that date, the one with the highest ticket sales in the history of the classic. Almost as much media coverage of the conflict acted as a boomerang against the effect sought by the measure of force.
That episode so far away was perhaps the most eloquent sign that nothing and no one manages the will of the spectator either to fill a stadium or to be indifferent to the call. There are many cases in which the stands are filled with fans who only think about those who play and dispense with those who are absent.
In this sense, it should be accepted that the forced absence stated by World Athletics of Russian and Belarusian athletes from the World Championsip that just ended in Budapest did not influence the interest of a public that filled the closing day every day at the stadium of the National Athletic Center.
And this is no small matter, not so much because of Belarusians but because of their neighbors who have historically occupied privileged places in the medal table of these tournaments and who have given this sport many of the most remarkable phenomena.
We have already talked about what I consider to be an unfair solution, whatever it may be: ignoring the seriousness of the Russian invasion of Ukraine or, as it finally happens, indiscriminately punishing athletes who, in many cases, are collateral victims of the regrettable decision of their head of state.
Without questioning, at least categorically, the decision taken - nothing that is considered unsolvable, such as a war, can have a pleasant solution - nor comparing government profiles as such aggression, I allow myself to wonder if such traumatic decisions would not be easier to accept if we were just as rigorous in our relations with all the countries whose possible governments are questioned almost daily on a planet in crisis.
In this sense, more than one will stop at the world championships in Moscow (Russia, 2013), Beijing (China, 2015) and Doha (Qatar, 2019). I suggest you go a little further.
Probably, if we went deep and analyzed geopolitical phenomena with subtlety, we would realize that the map of nations unquestioned would be dramatically reduced.
Sometimes it would be ideal to separate sport from politics.
It would always be healthy to avoid letting the athlete be the adjustment variable that management cannot find at their desks.