31.Mar .2023 18:28

Wimbledon lifts ban on Russian, Belarusian players

Wimbledon lifts ban on Russian, Belarusian players
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Wimbledon has lifted a ban on Russian and Belarusian players from its tournament this year, with players agreeing to sign neutral declarations.

Last year, players from Russia and Belarus were banned from Wimbledon in response to Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

The Lawn Tennis Association was hit with a fine and world ranking points were removed from last year's championships.

However, the decision has now been reversed and players from Russia and Belarus will be allowed to take part at Wimbledon this summer, subject to them competing as 'neutral' athletes and complying with appropriate conditions.

The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) said if the ban remained, there was "a real prospect of the termination of our membership", leading to the cancellation of events at Queen's, Eastbourne, Birmingham and Nottingham.

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.

"If circumstances change materially between now and the commencement of The Championships, we will consider and respond accordingly."

Reacting to the decision, Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said: "Throughout Putin's ongoing war in Ukraine, we have been clear that Russian and Belarusian athletes representing their country should not be permitted in domestic and international sporting competitions. That position still stands.

"Individual, self-funded Russian and Belarusian athletes can compete in the UK, subject to following our guidance on neutrality. 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 UK Government will continue to work closely with governing bodies and event organisers to do all we can to show solidarity with Ukraine."

Ukraine's foreign affairs minister Dmytro Kuleba criticised the decision and called on the government to stop Russian and Belarusian tennis players from entering the UK. He said: "Wimbledon's decision to permit the participation of Russian and Belarusian players is immoral. Has Russia ceased its aggression or atrocities? No, it's just that Wimbledon decided to accommodate two accomplices in crime. I call on the UK government to deny visas to their players."

All England Club: Strong and very disappointing reaction from some governing bodies

In a statement, the All England Club said the decision has been taken after discussions with the government, LTA and international stakeholders in tennis.

"Our current intention is to accept entries from Russian and Belarusian players subject to them competing as 'neutral' athletes and complying with appropriate conditions. These will prohibit expressions of support for Russia's invasion of Ukraine in various forms and prohibit entry by players receiving funding from the Russian and/or Belarusian states (including sponsorship from companies operated or controlled by the states) in relation to their participation in The Championships.

"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.

"Three developments, taken together, have informed our current position: The option of personal player declarations was not in our view viable last year.

"Since then, extensive engagement with the government and tennis stakeholder bodies has clarified and developed the form of declarations and produced workable measures for their implementation and enforcement. This approach has the full support of the government and the LTA, ATP, WTA and ITF.

"There was a strong and very disappointing reaction from some governing bodies in tennis to the position taken by the All England Club and the LTA last year with consequences which, if continued, would be damaging to the interests of players, fans, The Championships and British tennis.

"Tennis events outside of the UK have experienced a year of competition with players from Russia and Belarus competing as 'neutral' athletes. We also consider alignment between the Grand Slams to be increasingly important in the current tennis environment."

Medvedev: I'm for peace

Earlier this month, Russian player Daniil Medvedev said ahead of Indian Wells he would respect any decision taken by organisers.

"I've said it so many times, I'm not going to say anything new. I'm for peace," said the world No 5.

He added he would love to compete at SW19 but would not try to influence officials.

Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus was also barred from Wimbledon last year and echoed Medvedev's sentiments.

"The reaction of people, some different things made me feel really bad - that this is my fault," said the world No 2.

"But then I realised that this is not under my control. I did nothing, nothing bad against Ukrainian people. This is just not my fault."

Western military officials estimate casualties of the war on each side at more than 100,000 killed or wounded. Tens of thousands of civilians are also feared to have died, while millions have fled the threat of fighting.

Moscow calls the conflict a "special military operation" to protect its security and denies targeting civilians, SkySports reports.