Russian and Belarusian tennis players will be allowed to compete in this year’s Wimbledon Championships after a ban in place since last year was lifted on Friday by the UK’s governing body for the sport.
The Lawn Tennis Association last year barred players from the two countries from entering tournaments held in Britain following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Russian athletes and teams were also expelled from a range of other sporting events, including international football competitions.
However, the decision prompted a backlash from the sport’s global governing bodies and put the UK at odds with the US, France and Australia, which host the three other Grand Slam tournaments.
In retaliation, the Association of Tennis Professionals and the Women’s Tennis Association stripped Wimbledon of its rankings points and imposed fines on the LTA and threatened to remove its membership.
The LTA on Friday said it would allow Russians and Belarusians to return to the court but that they would be required to sign “neutrality declarations” and be self-funded.
“Our position in support of the people of Ukraine remains unchanged in 2023 as does our concern around the Russian and Belarusian regimes deriving reputational and other benefits by seeking to associate themselves with players,” it added.
The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, which runs Wimbledon, said it considered alignment between the four Grand Slams to be “increasingly important in the current tennis environment”. AELTC chair Ian Hewitt described the decision to reverse the ban as “incredibly difficult”.
Global sporting bodies continue to wrestle with whether to allow Russians to compete in major events. World Athletics last week decided to maintain its ban on Russians participating in track and field events, even as the International Olympic Committee pushes for them to return as neutrals in Paris next year.
A number of the top players in tennis are Russian or Belarusian. Last year’s ban left Russia’s Daniil Medvedev, the then top-ranked men’s player, unable to compete at Wimbledon.
In January this year, Aryna Sabalenka from Belarus won the women’s singles title at the Australian Open. During a match at the tournament involving Russian player Andrey Rublev, a handful of spectators displayed Russian flags and chanted songs in support of Vladimir Putin before being ejected.
UK culture secretary Lucy Frazer said: “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.”
The WTA and ATP said: “This remains an extremely difficult situation, and we would like to thank Wimbledon and the LTA for their efforts in reaching this outcome, while reiterating our unequivocal condemnation of Russia’s war on Ukraine.”