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World No 2 Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus will be able to compete in this year's Wimbledon championships. Image Credit: USA TODAY Sports

London: Wimbledon lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian players on Friday and will allow them to compete in the grasscourt Grand Slam this year as “neutral” athletes in a climbdown from the stance it took after Moscow’s war on Ukraine in 2022.

The players will be prohibited from expressing support for the war and must not receive funding from the Russian or Belarusian states, tournament organisers the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) said in a statement.

Difficult decision

“This was an incredibly difficult decision, not taken lightly or without a great deal of consideration for those who will be impacted,” said AELTC chairman Ian Hewitt. “It is our view that, considering all factors, these are the most appropriate arrangements for The Championships for this year.”

Wimbledon had said last year that barring players from the two countries was its only viable option under the guidance provided by the British government. Yet the tournament said this year’s conditions had been developed through dialogue with the government, whose guidelines on the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes were issued in March 2022 before last year’s edition.

Wimbledon did not immediately reply to a Reuters request for comment.

Workable solution

Due to last year’s ban, Wimbledon had its ranking points taken away. The women’s WTA and men’s ATP tours also imposed huge fines on the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) and the AELTC.

The ATP and WTA welcomed the lifting of the ban, saying it took a collaborative effort to arrive at a “workable solution” that protects the fairness of the game.

“This remains an extremely difficult situation and we would like to thank Wimbledon and LTA for their efforts in reaching this outcome,” the governing bodies said.

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Andrey Rublev, who is serving during the Miami Open, will also benifit from the decision to allow Russian players. Image Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Guidance of neutrality

Britain’s Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said the government maintained its position that Russian and Belarusian athletes representing their nations must not be permitted in domestic and international competitions but supported the AELTC approach.

“Individual, self-funded Russian and Belarusian athletes can compete in the United Kingdom, subject to following our guidance on neutrality,” Frazer added.

“We therefore support the approach of the AELTC and LTA on the basis of following that guidance.”

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World No 5 Daniil Medvedev will also be competing as a neutral in the Wimbledon Championships. Image Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Zero tolerance

The LTA said there would be a zero tolerance approach at its venues to flags, symbols or actions backing Russia and Belarus from anyone including players and fans.

Hewitt said the AELTC would respond if circumstances changed between now and the commencement of the tournament on July 3.

Players from the two nations have been competing on the tours and at the other slams as individual athletes without national affiliation.

Two Russians feature in the top 10 of the men’s rankings — Daniil Medvedev (5) and Andrey Rublev (7). Among the women, Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka is second in the world and she also won the Australian Open earlier this year, to become the first neutral Grand Slam champion. Russia’s Daria Kasatkina is eighth in the world.