Wimbledon has confirmed that it is climbing down over its ban on players from Russia and Belarus and that they will be permitted to play at all tournaments in the UK this summer.
The move comes under the heavy threat of further fines and sanctions from the two tours, which was described as ‘a very disappointing reaction’ by the All England Club.
The British game found itself isolated within tennis over the decision to bar them from competing a year ago.
In April 2022 the All England Club banned the contingent from the two countries who have conspired to inflict colossal suffering on another significant tennis nation, Ukraine.
However, its lead has not been followed by other events, despite tensions that have inevitably developed, within the women’s locker room in particular.
Players from Russia and Belarus will return to Wimbledon this summer after the All England Club reluctantly lifted its ban imposed following the invasion of Ukraine
Supporters at Wimbledon show their support for the Ukrainian players last year
Players from Ukraine have bitterly complained, and some have refused to shake hands after matches in the event of meeting those from Russia or Belarus.
All England Club Chairman Ian Hewitt said the decision to rescind the ban had been taken reluctantly and under heavy pressure from the rest of tennis, which has chosen to look the other way while the Putin regime has committed atrocities.
‘We continue to condemn totally Russia’s illegal invasion and our wholehearted support remains with the people of Ukraine,’ he insisted.
‘This was an incredibly difficult decision, not taken lightly or without a great deal of consideration for those who will be impacted.
‘It is our view that, considering all factors, these are the most appropriate arrangements for The Championships for this year.
‘We are thankful for the Government’s support as we and our fellow tennis stakeholder bodies have navigated this complex matter and agreed on conditions we believe are workable.
‘If circumstances change materially between now and the commencement of The Championships, we will consider and respond accordingly.’
Russia’s Daniil Medvedev is among those who would be allowed to compete if the ban lifted
Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus is another player now allowed to return to the Wimbledon draw
A further All England Club statement read: ‘Our current intention is to accept entries from Russian and Belarusian players subject to them competing as ‘neutral’ athletes and complying with appropriate conditions.
‘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 announcement has been the worst kept secret in tennis for months, and is the result of a surprisingly hard line taken by the WTA and ATP Tours to protect the principle of its global membership being able to compete irrespective of their government’s sins.
The firm stance from bodies – who can barely ever agree on such mundane things as toilet breaks – took the British game aback.
The Wimbledon statement conceded: ‘There was a strong and very disappointing reaction from some governing bodies in tennis to the position taken by the All England Club and the LTA last year.’
All England Club chairman Ian Hewitt said the decision to re-admit was being taken reluctantly
This comes on the same day that two Russians, Daniil Medvedev and Karen Khachanov, will play each other in the semi-finals of the Miami Open, a reminder of how it remains entirely possible that players from one of the two countries could do well at Wimbledon this summer.
At present the most likely person to be stepping up to receive a trophy from royalty is world No 2 and reigning Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.
What it removes is the threat of last year being repeated, when ranking points were stripped from The Championships, severely damaging the event’s credibility.
As Sportsmail revealed last month, a considerable factor in the climbdown has been the threat to tournaments in Britain outside Wimbledon.
It was implied that if bans were imposed then the tournament licenses would be placed on the open market with the likelihood that they would move overseas.
A statement from the Lawn Tennis Association read: ‘Our decision last year to ban Russian and Belarusian players from our tournaments led to significant penalties being imposed on us by both the ATP and WTA tours including the real prospect of the termination of our membership if we were to repeat the ban in 2023.
Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk refused to shake the hand of her Russian opponent in Texas
It comes despite the continued destruction of Ukraine by Russia. Pictured is Mariupol
‘This would mean the cancellation of our professional tennis events at Queens, Eastbourne, Birmingham and Nottingham this year and indeed in the future. 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.
‘Given this, and our responsibility as the national governing body of tennis in Britain, we have worked closely with the UK Government, ATP, WTA and ITF, alongside the All England Club, to find a solution for 2023.
‘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.
‘Taking these considerations together, we have agreed that all Russian and Belarusian players and support staff who wish to take part in our events in 2023 will be required to sign neutrality declarations. This is in line with the UK Government’s guidance and is an approach that has been used in other sports.
‘There will also be a zero-tolerance approach to any flags, symbols or other actions which support Russia, Belarus or the war from anyone in our venues, including players and spectators.’