The International Tennis Federation prohibits "audible obscenities" from players, but this rule applies to all Grand Slam tournaments, not just Wimbledon. And while tennis umpires have previously said that they were given a list of curse words to learn before tournaments, it's unclear if umpires are required to memorize these words or if it is just a helpful guide.
As the Wimbledon tennis tournament kicked off at the end of June 2021, social media posts started to circulate claiming that tennis umpires were required to learn curse words in a variety of languages in order to be able to penalize players for swearing on the court:
This meme reads: “Players aren’t allowed to swear at the Wimbledon tournament. Due to the international makeup of the players, umpires memorize a list of profanities from multiple languages.”
This meme is generally accurate. Rules against swearing are not specific to Wimbledon, however, and it’s not clear if tennis umpires are required to memorize this list of curse words before all events.
The claim that swearing is prohibited at Wimbledon is supported by rules put out by the International Tennis Federation. The ITF’s “Official Grand Slam Rule Book,” which provides the guidelines for the four International Championships of Australia, France, Great Britain (Wimbledon) and the United States, prohibits “audible obscenities” on the court.
Section K of Article III (Player on-site offences) states that players can be fined up to $20,000 for uttering an obscenity on the court:
Players shall not use audible obscenity within the precinct of the tournament site.
Violation of this Section shall subject a player to a fine up to $20,000 for each violation. In addition, if such violation occurs during a match (including the warmup), the player shall be penalised in accordance with the Point Penalty Schedule hereinafter set forth. In circumstances that are flagrant and particularly injurious to the success of a tournament, or are singularly egregious, a single violation of this Section shall also constitute the Major Offence of “Aggravated Behaviour” and shall be subject to the additional penalties hereinafter set forth. For the purposes of this Rule, audible obscenity is defined as the use of words commonly known and understood to be profane and uttered clearly and loudly enough to be heard by the Chair Umpire, spectators, Line Umpires or Ballpersons.
This is not a new rule, although it does seem that the fines have increased. Here’s a newspaper clipping from 1993 about two players who were fined during the Wimbledon tournament for cursing.
The claim that tennis umpires memorize curse words in a variety of languages before these tournaments appears to stem from a 2014 article in the Guardian in which longtime Wimbledon umpire Bernadette Halton talked about the tournament’s no-swearing rule.
Halton said: “We are given a list of all the swear words in different languages – if I hear an expletive in French or Russian, that’s a code breach.”
While it seems that tennis umpires are made aware of various curse words so that they can keep an eye (or ear) on the players, it’s not clear if all umpires are required to learn these curse words. One would assume that if a curse word was uttered loud enough to be picked up on cameras, a fine could be handed out retroactively even if the judge on the premises did not understand the obscenity.
We reached out to Wimbledon and the International Tennis Federation and will update this article if more information becomes available.