Reversal of position for Wimbledon. Under pressure from the ATP and WTA, the organizers of the London tournament announced, Friday, March 31, accept "under conditions" the participation of Russians and Belarusians this year despite the continuation of the war in Ukraine, thus applying the policy of other Grand Slam events.
"Our current intention is to accept the participation of Russian and Belarusian players provided they compete as 'neutral' athletes and meet the required conditions," the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) said in a statement.
The organizers specify that "they will be prohibited from expressing their support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine" and that players "receiving financial aid" from Russia or Belarus to participate in the tournament will not be allowed on the London grass.
>> READ ALSO: "Russian and Belarusian players excluded: Wimbledon divides the tennis world"
"We still totally condemn Russia's illegal invasion and we remain in our deep support for the people of Ukraine," EFTA President Ian Hewitt said, adding that the decision announced Friday had been "incredibly difficult" to take.
Last year, pushed by the British government, the grass Major turned away Russian and Belarusian players, angering the governing bodies of the ATP men's and women's WTA professional tours.
They had decided to deprive the London tournament of ATP and WTA ranking points by insisting on the break, induced by the Wimbledon decision, of the "fundamental" principle of fairness between all players to participate in all tournaments "on their merit and without discrimination".
'Strong reaction of disappointment'
On Friday, the AELTC acknowledged that its 2022 decision had provoked a "strong reaction of disappointment" from "some governing bodies in tennis" and that reiterating the ban this year would have had "damaging consequences for the interests of players, fans, Wimbledon and British tennis."
Also, the tennis circuits welcomed Wimbledon's decision for this year.
"We are pleased that all players will be able to participate in Wimbledon and other LTA (British Tennis Federation) tournaments this summer," the ATP and WTA said in a joint statement, praising the work done by all parties involved to reach a solution "that protects the fairness" of tennis.
The two professional tennis bodies also reiterate their "unequivocal condemnation of the Russian war in Ukraine".
In Kiev, on the other hand, the Foreign Secretary deplored an "immoral decision" and called on the British government not to issue visas to Russian and Belarusian players.
"Wimbledon's decision to allow Russian and Belarusian players to participate is immoral. Has Russia stopped its aggression or atrocities?" said Dmytro Kuleba via his Twitter account.
Wimbledon's decision to permit the participation of Russian and Belarusian players is immoral. Has Russia ceased its aggression or atrocities? No, it's just that Wimbledon decided to accommodate two accomplices in crime. I call on the UK government to deny visas to their players.
— Dmytro Kuleba (@DmytroKuleba) March 31, 2023
Participate under a neutral banner
Since the Russian invasion at the end of February 2022, Wimbledon has been the only one of the four Grand Slam tournaments to refuse Russian and Belarusian players. They were able to participate under a neutral banner and without mentioning their nationality at Roland-Garros, the US Open and, at the beginning of the season, the Australian Open.
"We believe it is increasingly important in today's tennis world that Grand Slam tournaments take the same position," the AELTC said.
For its part, the International Federation (ITF) notes with some resignation the "evolution" of the position of the LTA and the AELTC, insisting that for its part, "it had suspended until further notice" Russia and Belarus from international competitions under its aegis, and in particular the Davis Cup and the Billie Jean King Cup.
"The ITF's position on this issue has been clear from the beginning and remains the same," she said.
Wimbledon's reversal comes three days after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recommended the reinstatement of Russians and Belarusians in international sports competitions, under a neutral banner and "individually", provided they did not actively support the war in Ukraine.
The International Fencing Federation was the first to take the decision to reopen its events to athletes from both countries. But the move prompted threats to boycott Ukraine, the cancellation of tournaments in Germany, Denmark and France and a letter of protest from more than 300 fencers.
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