Wimbledon clears Russian and Belarusian players for 2023 tournament

By Paul Myers - RFI

Russian and Belarusian tennis players will be allowed to compete at the season's third Grand Slam event at Wimbledon as well as other British grass court tournaments after the All England Club (AELTC) and Britain's Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) on Friday jointly opted to reverse their bans on players from teh countries for this season's events.

Last year, Wimbledon refused to allow Russian and Belarusian players to take part because of the war in Ukraine.

But for the 2023 tournament between 3 and 16 July, they will be allowed to head to the leafy enclaves of south-west London under certain provisos.

They will have to compete as neutral athletes and will not be able to express support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Players receiving financial support from Russia or Belarus to participate in the tournament will also not be allowed into the competiion.

"We still totally condemn Russia's illegal invasion and maintain our strong support for the people of Ukraine," said the  AELTC's president Ian Hewitt.

On Friday, Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine's foreign minister, condemned the move.

"Wimbledon's decision to permit the participation of Russian and Belarusian players is immoral," he 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."

Last year, the British government persuaded Wimbledon's top brass to turn away Russian and Belarusian players.

Their decision led to a row with the ATP and WTA - which run the men's and women's tours respectively - who removed ranking points from the Wimbledon matches.

"We are pleased that all players will be able to compete at Wimbledon and other LTA tournaments this summer," the ATP and WTA said in a joint statement on Friday.

Wimbledon was the only one of the four Grand Slam tournaments to refuse Russian and Belarusian players in 2022. They were allowed to feature under a neutral banner at the Australian Open, the French Open and the US Open.

On Tuesday, Thomas Bach, the boss of the International Olympic Committee, raised the prospect of a boycott of the Paris 2024 Olympics when he said Russian and Belarusian athletes could return to international competitions providing they followed strict guidelines.

Germany and Poland as well as Ukraine, hit out at the decision of the IOC's executive board.

Piotr Wawrzyk, Poland's deputy foreign minister, said the IOC's board had gone through a day of shame.

He added: "What positive things has Russia done for their athletes to now take part in competitions!! After Bucha, Irpin, Hostomel!! After the daily bombings of civilian sites!!"

Last month Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelensky, accused the IOC of losing its honesty and said his country would boycott the Paris Olympics if the conflict were still underway in 2024 and the Russian and Belarusian athletes were allowed to take part. Latvia's Olympic committee said it would also snub the event.