The All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC), the organizer of the prestigious Wimbledon tennis championships in London, has lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian players for this year’s tournament.

In an announcement made today (March 31), the AELTC said players from the two countries will be allowed to participate “subject to them competing as ‘neutral’ athletes” and complying with set conditions.

These conditions include not showing support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and not receiving funding from the Russian and/or Belarusian states (including sponsorship from companies operated or controlled by the states) in relation to their participation in the championships.

The conditions were “carefully developed through constructive dialogue with the UK government, the LTA, and international stakeholder bodies in tennis, and are aligned with the government’s published guidance to sporting bodies in the UK.”

The decision will also allow Russian and Belarusian players to compete in other British events held in the run-up to Wimbledon, notably the tournaments at Queen's and Eastbourne.

Male and female players from the two countries were banned from participating at Wimbledon last year because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (which Belarus has materially assisted) in February 2022.

The AELTC’s ban was criticized by the men’s ATP Tour and women’s equivalent WTA Tour, which called the move discriminatory and decided to fine the organization – as well as the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) – and strip the championships of all player ranking points. 

The LTA was fined $1 million by the ATP – and $750,000 by the WTA – after it banned players from competing at its events in the country.

The national governing body had been threatened with expulsion from the tour if it maintained the ban.

The AELTC has appealed its fine which was issued by the WTA last year.

The Wimbledon organizers outlined several developments which made it alter its stance, including “a strong and very disappointing reaction from some governing bodies in tennis to the position taken by the All England Club and the LTA last year with consequences which, if continued, would be damaging to the interests of players, fans, the championships, and British tennis.”

It also pointed to other tennis events outside the UK adopting the same measure of allowing players from Russia and Belarus to compete as ‘neutral’ athletes and said it considers “alignment between the grand slams to be increasingly important in the current tennis environment.”

Russian trio Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev, and Daria Kasatkina – who are all in the top 10 of the men's and women's rankings – are among the high-profile names able to play this summer.

Belarusian women's world number two Aryna Sabalenka, who won the Australian Open earlier this year, is also set to feature.

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

“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. We are thankful for the government’s support as we and our fellow tennis stakeholder bodies have navigated this complex matter and agreed on conditions we believe are workable.

“If circumstances change materially between now and the commencement of the championships, we will consider and respond accordingly.”

Wimbledon will this year take place between July 3 and 16.

Image: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images