EXCLUSIVE: Wimbledon cave in to pressure and LIFT ban on Russian players for this year’s Championships – but stars will be kicked out if they show any support for Vladimir Putin’s country and will compete under neutral flag
- Russian players will be allowed to enter Wimbledon after their ban was dropped
- Wimbledon could expel those players though if they show support for Russia
- Officials want powers to ensure this neutrality is strictly enforced this summer
Russian players will be allowed to enter Wimbledon this year after the All England Club lifted its ban in the face of pressure from the tennis tours.
Players from Russia and its ally Belarus, including former men’s world No 1 Daniil Medvedev and Australian Open women’s champion Aryna Sabalenka, were banned last summer after Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, but they will now return – with strict conditions.
It is understood that players will be kicked out of the tournament if they show any support for the invasion, and they are also set to compete under a neutral flag.
The U-turn comes after the men’s and women’s tours stripped Wimbledon of its rankings points last year, fined the Lawn Tennis Association and threatened to take away its licence to hold tournaments such as Queen’s and Eastbourne if they did not overturn the ban.
Wimbledon stood alone among the major tournaments in banning Russian and Belarusian players.
Russian and Belarusian players will be allowed to compete at Wimbledon this summer
Daniil Medvedev (L) and Aryna Sabalenka (R) were banned last summer but can now return
Wimbledon officials want powers to ensure the players’ neutrality is strictly enforced before confirming their decision, which is not expected until next month.
Russian players will not be forced to make a public declaration of opposition to the war in Ukraine, as proposed by then sports minister Nigel Huddleston last year, but they could be asked to sign a Code of Conduct before the tournament.
The details of that code have yet to be finalised but it is likely that any explicit show of support for Russia, such as carrying a flag or talking positively about the country, could lead to sanctions including a potential expulsion from the tournament.
It is unclear how the code would deal with players liaising with Russian fans, a problem which befell Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open in January when he was photographed signing an autograph for a man who had earlier been seen wearing a Z T-shirt symbolising support for the Russian invasion.
Djokovic’s father Srdjan also attracted controversy when a video emerged of him posing with a Russian flag alongside fans shouting, ‘Long Live Russia!’
It’s understood players will be kicked out if they show any support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine while the country’s flag and symbols will be banned at this summer’s competition
The U-turn comes despite there being no change to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
Wimbledon are also expected to ban Russian flags and symbols from the grounds as was the case in Melbourne. Four fans were kicked out of the Australian Open for carrying Russian flags, but enforcement was patchy and the ban is likely to be policed more strictly at SW19.
Wimbledon’s proposed compromise solution is supported by the Government, who have made it clear they will not block visa applications from Russian players or demand a repeat of last year’s ban. There are three Russian players in the men’s top 50, including world No 6 Daniil Medvedev, and 13 players in total from Russia and Belarus in the women’s top 100, including Australian Open champion and world No 2 Aryna Sabalenka.
Wimbledon’s apparent willingness to overturn the Russian ban will be welcomed by the Lawn Tennis Association, who were facing the prospect of losing warm-up tournaments at the Queen’s Club and Eastbourne at a cost of up to £20million. The licenses for those tournaments are already being touted around to other venues.
The LTA have been threatened with suspension from staging events by the ATP and WTA, who issued combined fines of £1.5m for British tennis’s ban last year.
A Wimbledon spokesperson said a decision had not been made.
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