Wimbledon on Friday announced it has lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian tennis players, reversing the decision put in place one year ago as a punitive measure in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Russians and Belarusians didn’t compete in the 2022 tournament, the most visible tennis tournament and championship in the world, but they will for 2023. The All England Club and the Lawn Tennis Association has now explained that keeping the ban in place would have “damaging and far reaching” impact on tennis in England.
“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 with consequences which, if continued, would be damaging to the interests of players, fans, The Championships and British tennis,” the club said in a statement.
However, there’s a catch: players from the two countries will have to sign ‘neutrality agreements’ to enter the Grand Slam tournament. According to the change in policy, players will still have to abide by the following policies: players can’t express support for Russian military action and players can’t receive financial support from Russia or Belarus.
But importantly, they are not being forced to condemn or criticize their own governments either. Some sporting organizations have gone so far as to push athletes to publicly condemn Russia, which some have balked at.
“This was an incredibly difficult decision, not taken lightly or without a great deal of consideration for those who will be impacted,” Ian Hewitt, Chairman of the All England Club, explained Friday.
BBC: Russian men’s world number six Daniil Medvedev (left) and Belarusian women’s world number two Aryna Sabalenka will now feature at Wimbledon.
Predictably, the move has angered Ukraine, with its foreign minister sounding off on Twitter. “Wimbledon’s decision to permit the participation of Russian and Belarusian players is immoral,” FM Dmytro Kuleba said.
“Has Russia ceased its aggression or atrocities? No, it’s just that Wimbledon decided to accommodate two accomplices in crime,” he continued. “I call on the UK government to deny visas to their players.” But the UK government is likely to honor the decision that Wimbledon has made, as chances are there were consultations with the British government before the decision was finalized.
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