Russian and Belarusian tennis players can participate in this year’s Wimbledon championships, after the ban that has been in place since last year was lifted on Friday by the sport’s British governing body.
Last year, the Lawn Tennis Association banned players from the two countries from competing in tournaments in Britain following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Russian athletes and teams have also been banned from many other sporting events, including international soccer competitions.
But the decision sparked a backlash from the sport’s global governing bodies and put the UK at odds with the US, France and Australia, which host the other three Grand Slams.
In retaliation, the Professional Tennis Association and the Women’s Tennis Association stripped Wimbledon of ranking points, fined the LTA and threatened to terminate its membership.
The LTA said on Friday it would allow the Russians and Belarusians to return to the court, but they would have to sign a “declaration of neutrality” and be self-funded.
“Our stance in support of the Ukrainian people remains the same in 2023, as are our concerns about the Russian and Belarusian regimes gaining notoriety and other benefits by associating with the players,” he added.
The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, which runs Wimbledon, said it “considers consistency between the four Grand Slam tournaments increasingly important in the current tennis environment”. AELTC chairman Ian Hewitt called the decision to lift the ban “incredibly difficult”.
Global sports organizations continue to wrangle over whether to allow Russians to participate in major tournaments. World Athletics decided last week to uphold the Russians’ ban on athletics, despite the International Olympic Committee’s call for them to return to Paris next year as neutrals.
Several of the best players in tennis are Russian or Belarusian. Due to last year’s ban, Russian Danyiil Medvedev, the best male player at the time, could not participate in Wimbledon.
In January of this year, Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka won the women’s singles title at the Australian Open. During a match at the tournament featuring Russian player Andrei Rublev, a handful of spectators raised Russian flags and chanted songs for Vladimir Putin before being sent off.
UK Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said: “The AELTC and LTA should never have been fined from 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 organizers to do everything possible to show solidarity with Ukraine.”
The WTA and ATP said: “This remains an extremely difficult situation and we would like to thank Wimbledon and the LTA for their efforts to achieve this result, while reiterating our clear condemnation of Russia’s war against Ukraine.”