Are Russians and Belarusians allowed to play at Wimbledon? Latest rules amid Ukraine war

While sports including football and rugby imposed bans on Russian and Belarusian teams participating in competitions following the start of the war in Ukraine in February, tennis players from the two countries were not barred from competing by their governing bodies.

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) suspended the Russian Tennis Federation and Belarus Tennis Federation from international team competition but allowed players to continue as individuals.

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and men’s association (ATP) joined the ITF in suspending events due to be held in Russia and told players from the nations that they could not appear under the name or flag of Russia or Belarus.

That meant the likes of Russian world number one Daniil Medvedev and Belarusian world number six Aryna Sabalenka have played at Grand Slams as neutrals in 2022. What decisions have Wimbledon made on the issue?

Are Russians and Belarusians allowed to play at Wimbledon?

British Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston strongly suggested in March that Russian and Belarusian stars would, at the very least, be prevented from playing at Wimbledon 2022 if they flew their national flags or supported Vladimir Putin, floating the concept of players signing paperwork to distance themselves from the Russian president’s regime.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesperson confirmed that talks had begun with Wimbledon organisers the All England Club over the situation at a time when many sporting authorities had already taken firm action against Russian and Belarusian competitors.

On April 20, the club announced that entries from the countries would be declined “with deep regret”.

The announcement explained: “Given the profile of The Championships in the United Kingdom and around the world, it is our responsibility to play our part in the widespread efforts of Government, industry, sporting and creative institutions to limit Russia’s global influence through the strongest means possible.

“In the circumstances of such unjustified and unprecedented military aggression, it would be unacceptable for the Russian regime to derive any benefits from the involvement of Russian or Belarusian players with The Championships.”

Ian Hewitt, the chairman of the organising body, acknowledged that the ruling was “hard” on the players affected and said it was “with sadness [that] they will suffer for the actions of the leaders of the Russian regime”.

What has the reaction been to Wimbledon’s ban?

The move proved predictably controversial, earning support and criticism as part of a mixed reaction after the French Open, held in May and June, had decided not to bar players from the countries.

The WTA strongly condemned the war but disagreed with the decision to ban the players. “A fundamental principle of the WTA is that individual athletes may participate in professional tennis events based on merit and without any form of discrimination,” it said.

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“As the WTA has consistently stated, individual athletes should not be penalised or prevented from competing due to where they are from, or the decisions made by the governments of their countries.”

Medvedev, who first deposed Novak Djokovic as world number one shortly after the war began, has called for peace and reacted pragmatically to the announcement.

“On the one hand, I can understand and, on the other, I find it unfair,” he said, pointing out that self-employed people from Russia and Belarus have been allowed to carry on working in the UK.

“This is a delicate situation because it sets a precedent and puts other sports competitions in an uncomfortable position. Where is the line? What are the rules that should lead to a possible exclusion?”

Medvedev left the door open for a late change of heart from organisers. “If I have the opportunity to play at Wimbledon, I would be delighted,” he said. “If not, I would accept it.”

Reigning Wimbledon champion Djokovic also condemned the war but labelled Wimbledon’s decision “crazy”. “When politics interferes with sport, the result is not good,” he added.

Australian Open champion Rafael Nadal, who will be on course for a calendar Grand Slam in 2022 if he wins Wimbledon, called the move “very unfair” on the players.

“It’s not their fault, what’s happening in this moment with the war,” he said. “When the government imposes some restrictions, you just have to follow them.”

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British tennis great and three-time major winner Andy Murray called the guidance from the UK government “not helpful”.

“My understanding of the guidance was that Russians and Belarusians can play if they sign a declaration that they’re against the war and against the Russian regime,” he said.

“I’m not sure how comfortable I would feel if something happened to one of the players or their families [as a result]. I don’t think there’s a right answer.

“I have spoken to some of the Russian players. I’ve spoken to some of the Ukrainian players. I feel really bad for the players who aren’t allowed to play and I get that it will seem unfair to them.

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“But I also know some of the people who work at Wimbledon, and I know how difficult a position they were in. I feel for everyone, feel for the players that can’t play, and I don’t support one side or the other.”

Moscow-born world number 43 Natela Dzalamidze is expected to play at Wimbledon after changing her nationality to Georgian.

The 10-time ITF singles title winner said that she had made her decision because she wanted to play at the 2024 Olympic Games.

Which Russian and Belarusian players will miss Wimbledon?

Medvedev and Sabalenka are the top contenders to miss out. Sabalenka made the semifinals at Wimbledon last year and, while grass is Medvedev’s least successful surface, the 26-year-old would have been among the favourites after a formidable run of form over the past year.

World number 13 Daria Kasatkina (Russia), number 20 Victoria Azarenka (Belarus), number 22 Veronika Kudermetova (Russia) and number 28 Alexandrova Ekaterina (Russia) are the other players from the countries who would have been seeded but will not play.

Three other Russian men — world number eight Andrey Rublev, number 22 Karen Khachanov and number 43 Aslan Karatsev — will also miss out, as well as Belarusian number 48 Ilya Ivashka.

There is a minor consolation in terms of rankings for the absent players: the WTA and ATP will not be awarding ranking points for the tournament as a mark of their dissatisfaction with Wimbledon’s decision.

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