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Wimbledon lifts ban on Russian, Belarusian players; will insist on players signing declarations of neutrality
The threat by the ATP and WTA to remove all the British grass-court events from the Tour was a major factor in the decision
Russian and Belarusian players will be free to play at Wimbledon this year after the All-England Club decided to lift the ban they imposed in 2022 over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
But players, coaches and support teams from both Russia and Belarus will have to sign declarations of neutrality in order to play at Wimbledon and all the UK warm-up events, including Queen’s Club and Eastbourne.
They will also be prohibited from expressing any support for Russia or their government and from receiving any funding from Russia.
Confirmed by Wimbledon and the LTA
The decision was confirmed by Wimbledon and the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) on Friday, after months of consideration and discussion with the Tours and British government.
“Our current intention is to accept entries from Russian and Belarusian players subject to them competing as ‘neutral’ athletes and complying with appropriate conditions,” Wimbledon said in a statement.
“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 decision that we have taken has been very carefully considered,” Wimbledon CEO Sally Bolton told reporters by video call on Friday. “And we’ve been extremely conscious of the people that would be impacted by the decision we have made. It’s important to say that in particular our thoughts are with those living in Ukraine still under the invasion of Ukraine, and particularly to the Ukrainian players as they operate on the Tour.”
“Our position on Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine has not changed. We absolutely continue to condemn that.
Sanctions threat largely behind the change of heart
The LTA was fined £1 million by the ATP for the ban in 2022 and more than £600,000 by the WTA. Both the ATP and WTA had threatened to remove the sanction from all British grass-court events, meaning Queen’s, Eastbourne and others would no longer be part of the official ATP/WTA Tours.
In a statement, the LTA said the threat of sanctions had been a key factor.
“The effect on British tennis of the LTA being expelled from the tours would be very damaging and far reaching for the game in our country,” the statement read. “The impact would be felt by the millions of fans that follow the sport, the grass roots of the game, including coaches and venues which rely on the events for visibility and to bring new players into the game, and of course professional British players.”
LTA existence may have been in doubt if further sanctioned
Scott Lloyd, the CEO of the LTA, admitted that any further sanctions would have seriously impacted the British game.
“I wouldn’t necessarily go as far as to say that the LTA would have gone under, so to speak,” Lloyd told reporters on the video call.
“But there is no doubt that the effect on British tennis, of the LTA, potentially losing its membership to the Tours, and therefore the professional tournaments that we run here would have been very, very damaging and far-reaching.
“Obviously for the players…but also just for the millions of fans, for the grassroots of the sport, through the coaches, the venues, the inspiration, the visibility that those tournaments provide to get players on court. You know, all of that, it would have been a very significant and damaging impact on us.
“So that is something that we have been feeling very, very keenly really. You know, we were disappointed by the Tours’ reaction last year. I’ve said that before. We oppose those sanctions. And that has obviously been a very significant factor in our considerations this year.”
Both Wimbledon and the LTA stressed how closely they had worked with the Tours to reach their decision but also reiterated their disappointment at the way the ATP and WTA had reacted to their 2022 decision.
UK government says original ban should not have resulted in fines
UK culture secretary Lucy Frazer suggested Wimbledon and the LTA should have received more support from the Tours for their 2022 ban.
“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,” she said in a statement.
“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.”