Ukraine condemns Wimbledon lifting ban on Russians
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Ukraine condemns Wimbledon lifting ban on Russians

Russian and Belarusian players were banned from Wimbledon last year. (Photo: AFP)
Russian and Belarusian players were banned from Wimbledon last year. (Photo: AFP)

LONDON: Ukraine has condemned the "immoral" decision to allow Russian and Belarusian tennis players to compete at Wimbledon after tournament organisers announced Friday they were lifting a ban imposed in 2022.

Competitors from the two nations will be able to enter the Grand Slam, which starts on July 3, if they are "neutral" athletes and comply with certain conditions.

Players will be prohibited from expressing support for Russia's invasion of Ukraine and those who receive funding from the Russian or Belarusian states, including sponsorship from state-operated or state-controlled companies, will be barred.

The All England Club, which runs Wimbledon, said the decision was made after talks with the UK government, Britain's governing Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) and international tennis bodies.

Russian and Belarusian players at other tournaments in Britain will also have to sign neutrality declarations.

Wimbledon last year banned players from Russia and Moscow-allied Belarus — who both boast top stars — after Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, while the LTA barred them from its events.

Elsewhere, players have been able to compete on the men's and women's tours as neutrals, including at the other Grand Slams.

"We continue to condemn totally Russia's illegal invasion and our wholehearted support remains with the people of Ukraine," said Ian Hewitt, chairman of the All England Club.

"This was an incredibly difficult decision, not taken lightly or without a great deal of consideration for those who will be impacted.

"It is our view that, considering all factors, these are the most appropriate arrangements for the championships for this year."

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said the government backed the new policy.

"Throughout Putin's ongoing war in Ukraine, we have been clear that Russian and Belarusian athletes representing their country should not be permitted in domestic and international sporting competitions," she said.

"That position still stands. Individual, self-funded Russian and Belarusian athletes can compete in the UK, subject to following our guidance on neutrality."

'Accomplices in crime'

But Ukraine's foreign minister blasted the decision, urging Britain to bar entry to participants from the two countries.

"Wimbledon's decision to permit the participation of Russian and Belarusian players is immoral," Dmytro Kuleba said on social media.

"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."

The LTA and the All England Club were fined after imposing the tough sanctions last year and Wimbledon was stripped of ranking points.

The LTA said Friday it stood by its decision to ban the players in 2022.

But it highlighted the "real prospect of the termination of our membership if we were to repeat the ban in 2023", which would mean the cancellation of tournaments.

"The effect on British tennis of the LTA being expelled from the tours would be very damaging and far-reaching for the game in our country," the LTA said.

Russian players Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev are both ranked in the top 10 of the men's game, while Daria Kasatkina is ranked eighth in the women's game.

Belarusian women's world number two Aryna Sabalenka won the Australian Open earlier this year.

The men's ATP tour and women's WTA tour welcomed the Wimbledon decision, saying in a joint statement: "It has taken a collaborative effort across the sport to arrive at a workable solution which protects the fairness of the game.

"This remains an extremely difficult situation and we would like to thank Wimbledon and the LTA for their efforts in reaching this outcome, while reiterating our unequivocal condemnation of Russia's war on Ukraine."

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