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Wimbledon reverses ban on Russian and Belarusian players

Daniil Medvedev of Russia will be allowed to compete at Wimbledon this year. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)
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Wimbledon will allow Russian and Belarusian players to compete at this year’s tournament, organizers announced Friday, after they were banned from the 2022 event because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russian and Belarusian players will compete at the Grand Slam tennis event under a neutral flag, and they will not be allowed to express support for the invasion. Any player who receives funding from the Russian or Belarusian governments, including sponsorships from state-controlled companies, will not be allowed to play.

All England Club chairman Ian Hewitt said in a statement that while Wimbledon continues “to condemn totally Russia’s illegal invasion” and “our wholehearted support remains with the people of Ukraine,” allowing Russian and Belarusian players to compete made the most sense, in part because they are allowed to play as neutral athletes in tennis’s other Grand Slam events.

“It is our view that, considering all factors, these are the most appropriate arrangements for The Championships for this year,” Hewitt said.

Wimbledon’s ban kept stars such as Russia’s Daniil Medvedev, the world’s No. 2 men’s player at the time, and Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, the fourth-ranked women’s player, out of last year’s tournament. The move was condemned not only by Russia but also by the Association of Tennis Professionals, which called the decision “unfair” and said it “has the potential to set a damaging precedent for the game.”

Both the ATP and the Women’s Tennis Association stripped Wimbledon of its rankings points after last year’s decision. In July, the WTA fined the All England Club more than $250,000 and the Lawn Tennis Association — which sponsors other pro tournaments in England — approximately $750,000 over their decisions to ban Russian players. In December, the ATP followed suit against the LTA, assessing a $1 million fine.

Russia has two men’s players — No. 5 Medvedev and seventh-ranked Andrey Rublev — in the ATP top 10. Sabalenka is second in the women’s rankings, and Daria Kasatkina of Russia is No. 8 (no country is listed alongside their names in the ATP and WTA rankings).

In February, Ukrainian player Elina Svitolina said she hoped Wimbledon would maintain its ban on Russian players because “the war is still there.” But Rublev, who has spoken out against his country’s invasion, said in December the ban “doesn’t help the situation.”

“We are offering help in any direction that is possible,” he said after Russian players met with directors of the four Grand Slams and ATP officials. “We want to show that tennis can be bigger than politics.”

Wimbledon is scheduled to be held from July 3 to July 16 in London.