In 2022, Russian and Belarusian players were banned from the prestigious tournament in Wimbledon immediately after the invasion of Ukraine. They are now allowed to return to Wimbledon in 2023 as the tournament aligns with the other Grand Slams.
Players such as world number three in the men’s world, Russia’s Daniil Medvedev, and world number two in the women’s world, Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, are allowed to compete as neutrals but “are not allowed to wear or be seen with any objects that contain a picture , a symbol, flag, badge or emblem” that could indicate support for either regime.
A prerequisite for their participation is the signing of a personal declaration of neutrality and the commitment not to support the ongoing Russian invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin or his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko.
Wimbledon ‘continue to condemn invasion’
According to BBC Sport, the wording of the statement has been tightened to the effect that the players will not be allowed to receive any money from either the Russian or Belarusian state or organizations controlled by sanctioned individuals.
“We continue to condemn in the strongest possible terms the illegal invasion of Russia and we wholeheartedly support the Ukrainian people,” said Ian Hewitt, chairman of the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC), which organizes Wimbledon, in late March. “This was an incredibly difficult decision that was not made lightly or without much consideration for those involved.”
Wimbledon has also banned the sale of its merchandise in Russia and Belarus.
Defending champion Rybakina welcomes the decision
Wimbledon champion Yelena Rybakina, who was born in Moscow but became a Kazakh citizen in 2018, said she believes the decision was the right one. “[Russische und weißrussische Athleten] have played in all other tournaments and [Wimbledon] was the only Grand Slam tournament they were not allowed to play in. So I think they should be able to play without their flags.”
Wimbledon was the only Grand Slam tournament to issue a complete ban on Russian and Belarusian players last year.
Despite criticism from the men’s ATP tour, the women’s WTA tour and some individual players, the AELTC stood by its decision, stating it did not want potential Russian or Belarusian sporting successes at Wimbledon “to benefit the Russian regime’s propaganda machine ‘, stressing the decision is in line with the UK government’s efforts to ‘limit Russia’s global influence’.
The decision resulted in the AELTC and the UK Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) being fined a total of $2 million and Wimbledon being stripped of official ranking points by the ATP and WTA Tour, making the tournament a show event .
Men’s champion Novak Djokovic, who was previously unable to attend the Australian Open after being expelled from Australia for refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19, called the ban “crazy” and has since called for the Readmission of Russian and Belarusian players. “I hope that Russian and Belarusian players can play anywhere,” the Serb said in January. Rafael Nadal also described the ban as “very unfair”.
Ukraine calls Wimbledon decision ‘immoral’
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called the decision to lift the ban “immoral” and called on the UK to refuse visas to Russian and Belarusian players. Polish world number one Iga Swiatek also said the sport missed an opportunity to send a strong message to Moscow by failing to issue a blanket ban on players from Russia and Belarus.
Wimbledon said it will cover all accommodation costs for the Ukrainian players during the tournament and that for every ticket sold, one pound sterling ($1.17) will be donated to Ukraine Aid – that’s around £500,000 ($635,550) .
Last year, Ukraine’s number one Anhelina Kalinina donated her prize money to her parents, whose house in the Kiev suburb of Irpin was damaged by the Russian attack.
Other Russian players returning to Wimbledon this year include world no.
The Belarusian star player Victoria Azarenka is also in the win. The two-time winner took to Twitter, partly from her native Belarus, in the weeks following the Russian invasion, writing:
“I am shocked by the actions that have taken place against and in Ukraine over the last few days. It is heartbreaking to see how many innocent people have been affected and will continue to be affected by this violence. Since my early childhood I have always found the Ukrainian and Belarusian people and the two nations to be kind and supportive of each other. It is hard to witness the violent separation that is currently taking place instead of supporting and finding compassion for one another.”
Adapted from the English by Olivia Gerstenberger.