Wimbledon has lifted a ban on Russian and Belarusian players, allowing them to compete in the grass-court Grand Slam this year as “neutral” athletes, in a climbdown from its response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022.
Players from the two countries will be able to compete in the July tournament if they comply with certain conditions. These include refraining from expressing support for the invasion and not receiving government funding from their respective countries.
Competitors also cannot get sponsorships from state-operated or state-controlled companies, the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC), which runs Wimbledon, said in a statement on Friday. The same conditions will apply for other British tournaments.
“We continue to condemn totally Russia’s illegal invasion, and our wholehearted support remains with the people of Ukraine,” club Chairman Ian Hewitt said.
“This was an incredibly difficult decision, not taken lightly or without a great deal of consideration for those who will be impacted,” he said. “It is our view that, considering all factors, these are the most appropriate arrangements for the championships for this year.”
Last year, Wimbledon banned players from Russia and Moscow-allied Belarus after the invasion of Ukraine, saying it was the only viable option under the guidance provided by the British government.
Wimbledon and the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), the governing body for the game in the UK, were heavily penalised after imposing the tough sanctions last year. Both bodies were fined, and Wimbledon was stripped of ranking points.
The tournament said this year’s conditions had been developed through dialogue with the government.
UK Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said the government maintained its position that Russian and Belarusian athletes representing their nation must not be permitted in domestic and international sporting competitions but she supported the All England Club’s approach.
“Individual, self-funded Russian and Belarusian athletes can compete in the United Kingdom, subject to following our guidance on neutrality,” Frazer said.
“The AELTC and LTA should never have been fined by the international tennis tours for taking a principled stand against Russian aggression,” she added.
The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) welcomed the decision. The governing bodies said it took a collaborative effort across the sport to arrive at a “workable solution” that protects the fairness of the game.
“We are pleased that all players will have an opportunity to compete at Wimbledon and LTA events this summer,” the associations said in a joint statement.
“This remains an extremely difficult situation and we would like to thank Wimbledon and the LTA for their efforts in reaching this outcome, while reiterating our unequivocal condemnation of Russia’s war on Ukraine,” the ATP and WTA said.
Wimbledon was the only Grand Slam to ban competitors from Russia and Belarus, which has been a staging area for the Kremlin’s forces going into Ukraine.
Players competed on the tour as individual athletes without national affiliation at the other majors.
Two Russians feature in the top 10 of the men’s rankings: Daniil Medvedev (5) and Andrey Rublev (7).
Among the women, Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka is second in the world. She won the Australian Open in January to become the first neutral Grand Slam champion. Russia’s Daria Kasatkina is ranked eighth in the world.
Wimbledon is scheduled to run from July 3-16.
The post Wimbledon lifts ban on Russian and Belarusian tennis players appeared first on Al Jazeera.