Back in February, FINA, the International Swimming Federation, announced that it would be moving its World Championships from Japan, where stringent COVID protocols were still in place, to Budapest, where the situation has been much more conducive to travel and competition. The nation last hosted the event in 2017, for which its facilities and infrastructure saw major upgrades. Water polo is always a marquee sport at these championships, and this year especially so because of the recent performance of the “home” teams. In Tokyo, Hungary’s women’s team took home its first-ever medal when it defeated Russia in the bronze medal match. On the way, they even beat Team USA in the group stages, handing the Americans their first loss in 13 years (Team USA went on to easily win the gold medal). In the three preceding Olympics, Hungary finished fourth, so after such a massive breakthrough, there are great expectations for the women’s team. The men’s side is a bit different. After three consecutive gold medals in 2000, 2004, and 2008, the Hungarian men’s squad reached the podium again after a 13-year drought in Tokyo, also taking a bronze medal. After a silver medal at the 2017 FINA World Championships, both teams are entering the event in front of a home crowd with high hopes.
A Wimbledon marked by absence
As this year’s Wimbledon kicks off, the major stories are not about who is there, but who is missing. It is Wimbledon tradition for the previous year’s champion to play the first match on Centre Court. Novak Djokovic opened on Monday, but Tuesday did not see Ashley Barty kick things off for the ladies. That is because earlier this year, Ash Barty shocked the world by announcing her retirement just a few weeks after becoming the first Australian woman in four decades to win the Australian Open. According to Barty, she had considered retiring earlier, specifically after winning Wimbledon. Winning all the All England Club had always been her dream; after achieving it, she had very little left to prove to herself or others. She decided to stick it out through the Australian Open to possibly deliver one historic victory for her home country, and she ended up bringing home the trophy without dropping a set. Even though it has only been a few months since her retirement, the tennis world really misses her presence.
The other absences are players from Russia and Belarus. For one of the first times in history, players are being punished for the actions of their countries. A few months back, Wimbledon announced that they would not be allowing Russian or Belarussian players to compete (and there are multiple Russian players in the Top 10). The ATP and WTA Tours responded with disdain: punishing players for government action goes against the very core concepts of the tours, which are meant to be politically independent. Wimbledon said it had no choice, since allowing Russian players to compete also would allow them to bring glory to the Putin regime, which often uses sports successes to bolster its power. In response to Wimbledon’s ban, the ATP and WTA decided to strip the event of its ranking points. Curiously, this means that Russian players will benefit: Novak Djokovic will lose his defending champion points, and will not be able to earn them back, so Daniil Medvedev, a Russian player, will take over the number one ranking following the tournament.