Wimbledon to accept Russian and Belarusian players as ‘neutral’ athletes
LONDON – Wimbledon will allow Russian and Belarusian players to compete at the grass-court Grand Slam as “neutrals” in 2023, having banned players from the two countries after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Wimbledon had said before last summer’s tournament that barring players from the two countries was its only viable option under the guidance provided by the British government.
As a result, the men’s ATP Tour and the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) tours stripped the event of its ranking points. They also imposed huge fines on the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) and the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC).
However, the 2023 conditions include prohibiting “expressions of support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine”, which Moscow calls a special military operation, and prohibiting entry by players “receiving funding from the Russian and/or Belarusian states”.
“Our current intention is to accept entries from Russian and Belarusian players subject to them competing as ‘neutral’ athletes and complying with appropriate conditions,” the AELTC said in a statement.
“The conditions have been carefully developed through constructive dialogue with the UK government, the LTA and international stakeholder bodies in tennis, and are aligned with the Government’s published guidance to sporting bodies in the UK.”
The same conditions will apply for the other British grass-court tournaments.
Ian Hewitt, chairman of the All England Club, said: “We continue to condemn totally Russia’s illegal invasion and our wholehearted support remains with the people of Ukraine.
“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.”
The ATP and WTA welcomed the ban being lifted, with the governing bodies of the men’s and women’s game 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 UK 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,” she added.
“The AELTC and LTA should never have been fined by the international tennis tours for taking a principled stand against Russian aggression.
“The UK government will continue to work closely with governing bodies and event organisers to do all we can to show solidarity with Ukraine.”
Wimbledon was the only Grand Slam to ban competitors from Russia and Belarus, which has been a staging area for the invasion, in 2022. 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 (No. 5) and Andrey Rublev (7).
Among the women, Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka is second in the world and she also won the Australian Open in January 2023. Russia’s Daria Kasatkina is ranked eighth. REUTERS, AFP