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Wimbledon lifts ban on Russian, Belarusian players

2023-03-31T13:36:56Z

Wimbledon lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian players on Friday and will allow them to compete in the grasscourt Grand Slam this year as “neutral” athletes in a climbdown from the stance it took after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

The players will be prohibited from expressing support for the invasion and must not receive funding from the Russian or Belarusian states, the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) said in a statement.

“We continue to condemn totally Russia’s illegal invasion and our wholehearted support remains with the people of Ukraine,” said AELTC chairman Ian Hewitt.

“This was an incredibly difficult decision, not taken lightly or without a great deal of consideration for those who will be impacted.

“It is our view that, considering all factors, these are the most appropriate arrangements for The Championships for this year.”

Wimbledon had said last year that barring players from the two countries was its only viable option under the guidance provided by the British government following the invasion, which Moscow has called a special military operation.

Yet the tournament said this year’s conditions had been developed through dialogue with the government, whose guidelines on the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes were issued before last year’s tournament in March 2022.

Wimbledon did not immediately reply to a Reuters request for comment on the matter.

Due to last year’s ban, Wimbledon had its ranking points taken away. The women’s WTA and men’s ATP tours also imposed huge fines on the LTA and the AELTC.

The ATP and WTA welcomed the lifting of the ban, with the governing bodies saying it took a collaborative effort across the sport to arrive at a “workable solution” that protects the fairness of the game.

“This remains an extremely difficult situation and we would like to thank Wimbledon and LTA for their efforts in reaching this outcome, while reiterating our unequivocal condemnation of Russia’s war on Ukraine,” the two bodies said.

Britain’s 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 supported the AELTC approach.

“Individual, self-funded Russian and Belarusian athletes can compete in the United Kingdom, subject to following our guidance on neutrality,” Frazer added.

“We therefore support the approach of the All England Lawn Tennis Club and Lawn Tennis Association on the basis of following that guidance.

“The AELTC and LTA should never have been fined by the international tennis tours for taking a principled stand against Russian aggression.”

The International Tennis Federation, which suspended the Russian and Belarusian federations from its membership and participation in international team competitions, said in a statement its position would not change on the matter.

The LTA said a continued ban of Russians and Belarusians from its tournaments would have led to the real prospect of its membership being terminated and Wimbledon tune-up tournaments at Queens, Eastbourne, Birmingham and Nottingham being cancelled.

“The effect on British tennis of the LTA being expelled from the tours would be damaging and far reaching for the game in our country,” the LTA said.

“Given this and our responsibility as the national governing body of tennis in Britain, we have worked closely with the UK Government, ATP, WTA and ITF, alongside the All England Club, to find a solution for 2023.”

Wimbledon was the only Grand Slam to ban competitors from Russia and Belarus, which has been a staging area for the invasion.

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 and she also won the Australian Open earlier this year to become the first neutral Grand Slam champion. Russia’s Daria Kasatkina is ranked eighth in the world.

This year’s tournament is scheduled to run from July 3-16.

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