West News Wire: In a retreat from its reaction to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Wimbledon has removed a ban on Russian and Belarusian players, allowing them to participate in the grass-court Grand Slam this year as “neutral” athletes.
If they meet certain requirements, players from the two nations will be allowed to participate in the tournament in July. Among them are refraining from endorsing the invasion and refusing to accept government funding from their individual nations.
The All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC), which oversees Wimbledon, said in a statement on Friday that competitors are also prohibited from receiving sponsorships from organizations that are managed or controlled by the government. Other British competitions will be subject to the same rules.
“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.
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.