Wimbledon: Why were Russians and Belarusians banned last year but allowed to compete in 2023? | Inquirer Sports

Wimbledon: Why were Russians and Belarusians banned last year but allowed to compete in 2023?

/ 04:50 PM June 27, 2023

FILE PHOTO: Tennis - Wimbledon Preview - All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, London, Britain - June 22, 2022 General view of centre court ahead of Wimbledon

FILE PHOTO: Tennis – Wimbledon Preview – All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, London, Britain – June 22, 2022 General view of centre court ahead of Wimbledon REUTERS/Paul Childs/File Photo

Russian and Belarusian players were banned from Wimbledon in 2022 following the invasion of Ukraine but they will be allowed to compete as neutrals this year after the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) lifted its ban.

Wimbledon was the only Grand Slam to bar players from both countries, marking the first time they were banned on the grounds of nationality since the immediate post-World War Two era when German and Japanese players were excluded.

Russia launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and used Belarus as a staging ground for troops and weapons, leading several sports bodies to ban their teams and officials from official competitions.

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While the French Open allowed them to compete, Wimbledon announced the ban on players from both countries in April 2022, sparking swift condemnation by the men’s ATP Tour and women’s WTA Tour as well as several players.

But the AELTC stood by its decision, saying it was in line with the UK government’s efforts to “limit Russia’s global influence”.

The AELTC added that it did not want to risk Russian or Belarusian success at Wimbledon to “benefit the propaganda machine of the Russian regime”.

Novak Djokovic said the decision to ban the players was a mistake while Rafa Nadal labelled the ban as ‘very unfair’ as top-ranked players could not compete.

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At the time, Daniil Medvedev of Russia was world number two and the reigning U.S. Open champion while Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus was ranked number four in the world.

Stripped of points

Wimbledon’s decision invited the wrath of the ATP and WTA Tours, which called the move discriminatory and stripped the Grand Slam of its ranking points.

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The move effectively reduced the world’s most prestigious tennis tournament to an exhibition event.

The players were also banned from the UK grasscourt tournaments held in the build-up to Wimbledon, leading the two Tours to heavily fine the AELTC and Britain’s Lawn Tennis Association (LTA).

The ban came after Ukrainian players Elina Svitolina, Marta Kostyuk and Sergiy Stakhovsky — the latter who had enlisted in Ukraine’s reserve army prior to the invasion — called for a blanket ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes from international events.

Russian and Belarusian players were banned from international team competitions following the invasion, which Moscow describes as a “special military operation”, but the ATP and WTA allowed them to compete as neutrals on the circuits.

Ban lifted in 2023

Russian and Belarusian players continued to play at the other Grand Slams, however, and in March the AELTC eventually lifted its ban ahead of this year’s Championships, but with several conditions.

Players will be prohibited from expressing support for the invasion and must not receive funding from the Russian or Belarusian states.

The decision to lift the ban was met with protest from Ukraine, whose Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said it was “immoral” and urged Britain to deny Russian and Belarusian players visas.

Defending champion and Kazakhstan’s Moscow-born Elena Rybakina said Wimbledon had taken the correct decision to reverse its ban.

But world number one Iga Swiatek said the sport had missed an opportunity to send a strong message to Moscow by failing to impose a blanket ban on players from Russia and Belarus.

The AELTC said several Russian and Belarusian players had signed personal declarations that will clear them to compete as neutrals at Wimbledon.

Wimbledon also said it would meet all of the accommodation costs of Ukraine players during the tournament and all of the build-up events in the British grasscourt season.

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Meanwhile, one pound will be donated to Ukraine relief efforts for every ticket sold — amounting to around 500,000 pounds ($635,550).

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TAGS: Wimbledon

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