Wimbledon lifts the ban - but the return of Russian and Belarusian tennis players to the "holy turf" is by no means a decision based on conviction.
The British tennis association LTA said in a statement that it was still firmly of the opinion that an exclusion "was the right course". But the "considerable penalties" imposed by the powerful player associations ATP and WTA, including the "real prospect of our membership being terminated" in the event of another start ban, would have left the organizer almost no other choice.
Starters must sign a declaration of neutrality
And so the organizers of the only Grand Slam tournament on grass announced that they will reopen the gates at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club for Russian and Belarusian players from July 3 to 16 in London. "As long as they compete as 'neutral' athletes and meet the relevant conditions," as the Wimbledon organizer limited in a press release.
The waiver of the national flag is only one point. Players are also not allowed to make statements of support for Russia's invasion of Ukraine or receive any financial support from the state in connection with participation in the tournament. This also applies to the sponsorship of state-owned companies such as Gazprom. According to the LTA, the starters must sign a corresponding declaration of neutrality. The conditions were worked out after an exchange with the British government, the LTA and international interest groups in tennis.
In the previous year, Russian and Belarusian athletes such as world number five Daniil Medvedev were not allowed, which went against the basic course of the ATP and WTA. That's why no points were awarded for the world rankings in Wimbledon. At the Australian Open, French Open and US Open, tennis professionals from both countries were allowed to start as neutral athletes after the start of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine.
Support for Ukraine "wholeheartedly"
The organizers said that dropping the special role was also a reason for the decision: "We also consider the alignment between the Grand Slams in the current tennis environment to be increasingly important." However, Ian Hewitt, chairman of the All England Club, emphasized that the illegal invasion of Russia remains "strongly condemned" and the Ukrainians are supported "wholeheartedly". It was an "incredibly difficult decision" that was "not taken lightly or without great consideration for those affected".
The players' associations ATP and WTA responded with a statement, but they also pointed out that the situation was still "extremely difficult". This has intensified since Thursday evening: Ukraine's cabinet of ministers officially instructed the country's athletes to boycott competitions in which Russians and Belarusians take part. Should athletes nevertheless start at those events, this could lead to the respective associations being stripped of their national status.
This is in response to last Tuesday's recommendation by the International Olympic Committee to allow athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete as neutral participants. So will Wimbledon take place with Russians and Belarusians, but without Ukrainians? In any case, the issue does not end with Friday's decision, especially since the organizers kept the option open to adjust if the circumstances "change significantly" before the start of the tournament.