UK

Ukraine’s foreign minister has branded Wimbledon’s decision to allow Russian and Belarusian players to compete as “immoral”.

Dmytro Kuleba urged the UK to deny the athletes visas to enter the country.

“Has Russia ceased its aggression or atrocities? No, it’s just that Wimbledon decided to accommodate two accomplices in crime,” said Mr Kuleba in a statement.

Russian and Belarusian players will be allowed to compete at Wimbledon in the summer after the All England Club reversed the ban it imposed last year.

Athletes from the two countries must sign declarations of neutrality and not express support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in order to compete.

Players who receive funding from the Russian or Belarusian states, including sponsorship from state-owned or controlled companies, will remain barred.

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The same conditions will apply for the other British grass-court tournaments including Queen’s in west Kensington, London.

The move reverses the decision made by the All England Club and Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) 12 months ago. The two governing bodies were heavily penalised as a result, with Wimbledon stripped of its world ranking points, meaning Wimbledon was essentially rendered an exhibition event, with players unable to earn the ranking points they do at all other official tournaments.

Meanwhile, the Lawn Tennis Association was handed a seven-figure fine and threatened with losing its tournaments.

Ian Hewitt, chairman of the All England Club, said of the move to lift the ban: “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.”

The threat of further sanctions against the British game was undoubtedly a major factor in the U-turn, with an LTA statement saying: “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 impact would be felt by the millions of fans that follow the sport, the grass roots of the game, including coaches and venues which rely on the events for visibility and to bring new players into the game, and of course professional British players.”

Both governing bodies reiterated their disappointment with tennis’ reaction to last year’s ban, and Wimbledon chief executive Sally Bolton said: “We absolutely stand by the decision that we took last year in the circumstances we found ourselves in.”

The tournament organisers have also updated their conditions of entry to specifically bar Russian and Belarusian flags and symbols.

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Players and their support staff will not have to expressly condemn the Russian or Belarusian authorities but must declare they are not using the tournaments as a way of supporting those governments.

The prospect of a winner from one of the two countries at Wimbledon is fairly high, with Belarusian player Aryna Sabalenka a strong performer on grass, while Russian star Daniil Medvedev has won more matches than any other player on the men’s tour so far this season.

The ATP and WTA welcomed the decision, saying in a joint statement: “We are pleased that all players will have an opportunity to compete at Wimbledon and LTA events this summer.

“It has taken a collaborative effort across the sport to arrive at a workable solution which protects the fairness of the game.”

There has also now been a year of players from the two countries competing around the world under a neutral flag without any instances of overt support for the conflict.

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