Russians, Belarusians banned at Wimbledon last year but allowed to compete in 2023

Russians, Belarusians banned at Wimbledon last year but allowed to compete in 2023
Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus plays Karolina Muchova of Czech Republic in their semifinal at the French Open on 8 June 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Christophe Petit Tesson)

In March the All England Lawn Tennis Club lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian players for the 2023 Wimbledon Championships, but with several conditions.

Russian and Belarusian players were banned from Wimbledon in 2022 following the invasion of Ukraine, but they will be allowed to compete as neutrals this year after the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) lifted its ban.

Wimbledon was the only Grand Slam to bar players from both countries, marking the first time they were banned on the grounds of nationality since the era immediately after World War 2 when German and Japanese players were excluded.

Russia launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and used Belarus as a staging ground for troops and weapons, leading several sports bodies to ban their teams and officials from official competitions.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Djokovic slams Wimbledon ban on Russian and Belarusian players as ‘crazy’ 

While the French Open allowed them to compete, Wimbledon announced the ban on players from both countries in April 2022, sparking swift condemnation by the men’s ATP Tour and women’s WTA Tour as well as several players.

But the AELTC stood by its decision, saying it was in line with the UK government’s efforts to “limit Russia’s global influence”.

Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic against Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus in their French Open semifinal on 8 June 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Caroline Blumberg)

The AELTC added that it did not want to risk Russian or Belarusian success at Wimbledon to “benefit the propaganda machine of the Russian regime”.

Novak Djokovic said the decision to ban the players was a mistake while Rafael Nadal labelled the ban as “very unfair” because top-ranked players could not compete.

At the time, Daniil Medvedev of Russia was world No 2 and the reigning US Open champion while Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus was ranked No 4.

Stripped of points

Wimbledon’s decision invited the wrath of the ATP and WTA Tours, which called the move discriminatory and stripped the Grand Slam of its ranking points.

The move effectively reduced the world’s most prestigious tennis tournament to an exhibition event.

Read more in Daily Maverick: World’s tennis bosses wrong to punish Wimbledon for its Ukraine war stance

The players were also banned from the UK grass-court tournaments in the build-up to Wimbledon, leading the two Tours to heavily fine the AELTC and Britain’s Lawn Tennis Association (LTA).

The ban came after Ukrainian players Elina Svitolina, Marta Kostyuk and Sergiy Stakhovsky – the latter who had enlisted in Ukraine’s reserve army before the invasion – called for a blanket ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes from international events.

Russian and Belarusian players were banned from international team competitions following the invasion, which Moscow describes as a “special military operation”, but the ATP and WTA allowed them to compete as neutrals on the circuits.

Ban lifted in 2023

Russian and Belarusian players continued to play at the other Grand Slams, however, and in March the AELTC eventually lifted its ban ahead of this year’s championships, but with several conditions.

Players will be prohibited from expressing support for the invasion and must not receive funding from the Russian or Belarusian states.

Daniil Medvedev of Russia in action against Holger Rune of Denmark in the Italian Open final on 21 May 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Ettore Ferrari)

Daniil Medvedev celebrates after winning the Italian Open on 21 May 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Ettore Ferrari)

The decision to lift the ban was met with protest from Ukraine, whose foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said it was “immoral” and urged Britain to deny Russian and Belarusian players visas.

Defending champion and Kazakhstan’s Moscow-born Elena Rybakina said Wimbledon had taken the correct decision to reverse its ban.

But world No 1 Iga Świątek said the sport had missed an opportunity to send a strong message to Moscow by failing to impose a blanket ban on players from Russia and Belarus.

The AELTC said several Russian and Belarusian players had signed personal declarations that would clear them to compete as neutrals at Wimbledon.

Wimbledon also said it would meet all of the accommodation costs of Ukraine players during the tournament and all of the build-up events in the British grass-court season.

Meanwhile, £1 will be donated to Ukraine relief efforts for every ticket sold – amounting to about £500,000 (about R11.8-million). Reuters/DM


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