In a surprising move, the All England Club has announced that Russian and Belarusian players will be allowed to compete at Wimbledon this year, following the ban imposed on them last year. However, the players will have to feature as neutral athletes and agree to comply with certain conditions, including not supporting their respective states or receiving funding from them.
The ban was originally put in place in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the support provided by Belarus. The decision to lift the ban was made after discussion with the UK government, the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) and international stakeholders. The decision also covers other British events held in the run-up to Wimbledon, such as Queen’s and Eastbourne.
Russian trio Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev, and Daria Kasatkina, who are all in the top 10 of the men’s and women’s rankings, are among the high-profile names able to play this summer. Belarusian women’s world number two Aryna Sabalenka, who won the Australian Open earlier this year, will also now likely feature. However, players and their support staff will have to sign neutrality declarations in order to compete, and breaking them could lead to fines or expulsion from the tournament.
Last year, the ban was supported by 69% of the British public, according to a YouGov poll. However, the ATP and WTA decided players could compete under a neutral flag. The LTA was fined $750,000 (£608,355) by the WTA and $1m (£811,140) by the ATP for excluding players from the tour events they operate in 2022. The WTA and ATP said they would cancel the LTA’s membership if it exercised further “discrimination based on nationality”.
Many sports banned Russian and Belarusian teams and athletes in response to the invasion, and Ukraine’s highest-profile player Elina Svitolina recently told BBC Sport that Russian and Belarusian athletes must remain excluded from Wimbledon while “innocent Ukrainians are still being killed”. However, the AELTC and LTA said they stand by last year’s position but that without changing their stance this year, the tennis’ two main professional tours, the men’s ATP and women’s WTA, would have cancelled the LTA’s membership.