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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Wimbledon Drops Ban on Russian and Belarusian Athletes

The players must sign declarations of neutrality and comply with “appropriate conditions,” including not expressing support for Russia's invasion of Ukraine

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UNITED KINGDOM: Wimbledon has reversed its ban on Russian and Belarusian players, allowing them to participate in the grass-court Grand Slam this year as “neutral” sportsmen. The All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) had previously announced that the players would not be allowed to publicly endorse the invasion and could not accept sponsorship from either the Russian or Belarusian governments.

Dmytro Kuleba, the foreign minister of Ukraine, called Wimbledon’s decision to accept two criminals from Belarus and Russia “immoral” and urged Britain to refuse visas. After the invasion, the British government told Wimbledon that banning athletes from the two countries was the only practical thing to do.

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Wimbledon announced that the possibility of personal player declarations was not practical the previous year, but this has since been resolved due to interactions with key figures in the government and the tennis industry. 

It was noted that the government, the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) of Great Britain, the men’s ATP, the women’s WTA, and the International Tennis Federation (ITF) all supported the strategy.

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Wimbledon lost ranking points due to the ban from the previous season, and large fines were levied against the LTA and AELTC by the WTA and ATP Tours. The ATP and WTA expressed their appreciation for the removal of the suspension and noted that it required teamwork to find a “workable solution” that safeguards the integrity of the competition. They also congratulated Wimbledon and LTA for their efforts in obtaining this outcome.

The government of the United Kingdom endorsed the AELTC’s approach while maintaining its stance that athletes from Russia and Belarus should not be allowed to participate in domestic and international tournaments. Independent, self-funded Russian and Belarusian athletes are permitted to compete in the UK as long as they adhere to neutrality guidelines. The International Team Federation (ITF) declared that it would not budge from its position after suspending the Russian federations from membership and participation in international team tournaments.

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The LTA has collaborated with the government, the ATP, WTA, and ITF to find a solution for 2023, as it is their duty as the national governing body of tennis in Britain. A protracted ban could have resulted in the cancellation of Wimbledon tune-up events, as well as the possibility of its membership being cancelled.

Novak Djokovic, who is the current Wimbledon champion, is a member of the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA). The PTPA agreed with the decision and reaffirmed their support for Ukrainian players. They encourage fair play and equal treatment of all players, no matter where they come from, and they praise the step towards respect for the game and inclusion.

Limited tolerance

The LTA said that players or spectators who showed support for Russia or Belarus with flags, symbols, or other actions would not be allowed on its sites. This meant that neither flag could be flown at the Australian Open. Only Wimbledon allowed athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete.

Ian Hewitt (chairman) warned that if conditions changed between now and the start of the competition, the AELTC would react. Players from the two countries have been participating as independent athletes with no national association, with two Russians in the top 10 of the men’s rankings. Both have appealed for peace in the past.

Aryna Sabalenka, a Belarusian who is ranked second among women and won the Australian Open earlier this year, became the first player to win a Grand Slam without being part of a team. Daria Kasatkina of Russia is ranked eighth worldwide.

Also Read: Naomi Osaka Announces Pregnancy, Takes a Break from Tennis

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