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Players from Russia and Belarus will be allowed to compete at Wimbledon this summer after tournament officials reversed a policy banning them last year in the months following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The decision to ban players was criticized at the time, even in tennis, and a reversal of this decision was anticipated. Wimbledon officials justified their decision in a statement, in which they said maintaining the policy in place would be “harm” for the most prestigious tournament in the sport and for tennis itself.

The biggest beneficiaries of the move will be Belarus’ Aryna Sabalenka, who won the Australian Open in January and placed second in the world, and Daniil Medvedev, the 2021 US Open champion, who came in second. year in the men’s ranking.

To qualify under the new Wimbledon rules, any player from Russia and Belarus must compete as a “neutral athlete”, without the national anthem, flag and other nationalist symbols. , and must not express support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Funding from state-owned companies will also be banned.

Credit…Cristobal Herrera-Ulashkevich/EPA, via Shutterstock

Many sports quickly turned Russia and Belarus into sporting scorners as punishment for their countries’ role in the invasion of Ukraine, but Wimbledon was the only tennis Grand Slam event on last year banned the players unconditionally. While support for Ukrainian tennis is widespread, Wimbledon’s ban – a joint move with the British Lawn Tennis Association, which controls the sport – has been sharply criticized throughout the world. this sport because a disturbing precedent.

In a statement released on Friday, Ian Hewitt, president of the All England Club, said the organization continued to condemn the invasion and support the Ukrainian people.

“This is an extremely difficult decision that should not be taken lightly or without careful consideration for those who will be affected,” Hewitt said. “In our view, considering all the factors, these are the most suitable arrangements for this year’s Championship.”

Hewitt said the club would reconsider the position if circumstances change ahead of the tournament, which is set to begin on July 3.

Like most Olympic sports, tennis has agreed to ban the national symbols of Russia and Belarus and ban these countries from competing in team competitions.

However, only Wimbledon and the LTA have banned players from competing in their events, a move strongly supported by the British Parliament.

The men’s and women’s professional tournaments, the ATP and the WTA, punished Wimbledon by deciding not to award ranking points to tournament victories. The move is an attempt to turn the event into an exhibition, but it also hurts the tournament and some of the top players, including Novak Djokovic and Elena Rybakina, as the rankings don’t reflect. exactly performance over the last 12 months, as they are supposed to be.

Also, a native Russian ended up winning the tournament, like Rybakina, who was born and raised in Russia but started playing for Kazakhstan when she was 18, women’s singles champion.

Players from Russia and Belarus expressed disappointment over last year’s decision but did not oppose it at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

In recent months, many top players, including Djokovic, have condemned the war but also said that players from Russia and Belarus should be allowed to compete, although Russia’s Daria Kasatkina was the only player. from Russia or Belarus participate. openly criticize the war in a video posted last summer. Andrey Rublev, another Russian, appeared in the video and said he agreed with her statements but did not publicly criticize himself.

Sabalenka said in Australia that if there was anything she could do to change what was happening in Ukraine she would. Victoria Azarenka, also from Belarus and a member of the WTA Tour’s Player Council, offered to take part in a fundraising exhibition for war victims in Ukraine ahead of the US Open, even though the players were from Ukraine eventually asked her not to participate. .

Many players from Ukraine have left their country. Some, including Lesia Tsurenko and Dayana Yastremska, have lobbied to ban players from Russia and Belarus from competing in any professional league unless they express opposition to war.

There has been little contact between players from Ukraine with Russia and Belarus over the past year, although Kasatkina said she received many thank-you messages from players from Ukraine after she posted her video.

Wimbledon’s move comes just days after the International Olympic Committee announced that it will promote athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete at the Summer Olympics in Paris in 2024. In explaining the decision, Thomas Bach, president of the IOC, said that tennis has shown how athletes from those countries can compete even with athletes from Ukraine without disturbance.

The players from Russia continued to excel in the game. On Friday afternoon, Medvedev will face compatriot Karen Khachanov in the semi-finals of the Miami Open, one of the biggest tournaments of the year outside of the Grand Slam. Rybakina will play in the final on Saturday.


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