Wimbledon Will Let Russian, Belarusian Tennis Players Compete as Neutrals This Year

Day Ten: The Championships - Wimbledon 2021 - Credit: Simon Bruty/Anychance/Getty Images
Day Ten: The Championships - Wimbledon 2021 - Credit: Simon Bruty/Anychance/Getty Images

Tennis players from Russia and Belarus will be allowed to compete at Wimbledon 2023 as neutrals after being fully banned from the tournament last year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

As neutrals, Russian and Belarusian athletes won’t have flags shown next to their names, nor will their national anthems be played at matches. Wimbledon is also still barring the entry of players who receive any funding or sponsorship from the two states or companies they might operate or control.

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Ukrainian government officials, however, were critical of the decision, with Dmytro Kuleba, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, tweeting, “Wimbledon’s decision to permit the participation of Russian and Belarusian players is immoral. 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.”

The rule change will allow some top players to compete in one of the year’s biggest tournaments. On the women’s side, Aryna Sabalenka, from Belarus, is ranked Number Two in the world and just won the Australian Open in January (her first Grand Slam tournament win). Russia’s Daria Kasatkina, who is ranked Number 8 — and is one of the few athletes to publicly criticize the war in Ukraine — will also be allowed to participate.

And among those that’ll be allowed to compete on the men’s side: Russia’s Daniil Medvedev, who won the U.S. Open in 2021 and is currently ranked Number 5, and Russia’s Andrey Rublev, a rising talent who’s currently ranked Number 7.

Wimbledon’s decision to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete this year as neutrals comes after the tournament organizers fully banned those athletes from participating last year. The severity of the decision even drew criticism from inside the tennis world. In contrast, Russian and Belarusian players were allowed to compete as neutrals at the other two Grand Slam tournaments, the French Open and U.S. Open (the Australian Open was held before the war started).

In its statement, Wimbledon organizers acknowledged the “strong and very disappointing reaction from some governing bodies in tennis” to the original position and said that it would have been “damaging” if it remained in place in 2023.

Ian Hewitt, chairman of the All England Club, which hosts Wimbledon, added, “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.”

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