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31 Mar, 2023 15:24

Wimbledon reluctantly lifts Russia and Belarus ban

Players from both nations will be required to sign ‘neutrality agreements’ to play at the Grand Slam tennis tournament
Wimbledon reluctantly lifts Russia and Belarus ban

Tennis players from Russia and Belarus will once again be permitted to compete at Wimbledon after the All England Club (AELTC) announced on Friday that it was ending the suspension imposed last year following the onset of the conflict in Ukraine.

Players such as Russia’s Daniil Medvedev – currently ranked fifth in the world – and Belarus’ Aryna Sabalenka – ranked second – will once again be eligible to participate in the Grand Slam event “subject to competing as neutral athletes,” the AELTC said.

“This was an incredibly difficult decision, not taken lightly or without a great deal of consideration for those who will be impacted,” the group’s chairman, Ian Hewitt, added.

The criteria for inclusion, the AELTC explained in the Friday statement, includes prohibiting players from expressing support for Russia’s ongoing military action in Ukraine. Players will also be barred from receiving financial support from either Russia or Belarus – but they won’t be required to criticize their government.

The decision taken last year by the AELTC to suspend Russians and Belarusians came in sharp contrast to stances adopted by the sport’s various governing bodies. The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and the International Tennis Federation (ITF) had all approved the participation of players from both nations to compete as neutrals.

However, Wimbledon’s ban drew criticism from both the ATP and WTA, who withdrew ranking points from the event – effectively commuting the event into an exhibition tournament. Both bodies also imposed fines on the AELTC and its partner, the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA).

The LTA, which organizes various UK tournaments that take place in advance of Wimbledon, said in February that it faced an “existential threat” if the suspension of Russians and Belarusians was to continue, fearing further disciplinary measures. Russian player Andrey Rublev has described the suspensions as “complete discrimination.”

Reports last year suggested that Wimbledon organizers had expressed concerns about the potential negative optics of the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, presenting a winners’ trophy to a player from either Russia or Belarus – particularly amid other sporting sanctions imposed upon both countries by various sports federations following advice issued by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) last year.

The 2022 Wimbledon womens’ event was won by the Moscow-born Elena Rybakina, who has represented Kazakhstan on the international stage since 2018.