Wimbledon, one of the most prestigious tennis tournaments in the world, has lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian players and will allow them to compete in this year's grass court Grand Slam as “neutral” athletes.
The All England Lawn Tennis Club imposed the ban last year following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.
Players from the two countries were prohibited from competing at the tournament, causing significant financial and reputational damage to both the players and the tournament organisers.
The AELTC has stated that the players will be prohibited from expressing support for the invasion, and they must not receive funding from the Russian or Belarusian states.
A statement from the AELTC noted that players will be required to sign declarations of neutrality to confirm that they will adhere to these conditions.
Ian Hewitt, Chairman of the AELTC, said that the decision to lift the ban was not taken lightly. He 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 affected. It is our view that, considering all factors, these are the most appropriate arrangements for The Championships for this year.”
The ban on Russian and Belarusian players had resulted in Wimbledon being stripped of ranking points, while the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) was fined seven figures and threatened with losing its tournaments. The ATP and WTA Tours also imposed huge fines on both organisations.
The lifting of the ban has been welcomed by the ATP and WTA. The two governing bodies issued a joint statement stating that they were pleased that all players would 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 that protects the fairness of the game,” the statement said.
“This remains an extremely difficult situation, and we would like to thank Wimbledon and the LTA for their efforts in reaching this outcome, while reiterating our unequivocal condemnation of Russia's war on Ukraine.”
The decision to lift the ban on Russian and Belarusian players has not been universally popular, however.
Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has described Wimbledon's decision as “immoral” and has called on the UK government to deny visas to the players. Mr Kuleba said: “Has Russia ceased its aggression or atrocities? No, it's just that Wimbledon decided to accommodate two accomplices in crime.”
The LTA has responded to Mr Kuleba's comments by stating that a continued ban on Russian and Belarusian players would have had a significant impact on British tennis. “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,” a statement from the organisation said.
“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.”
The odds of a Russian or Belarusian winner of one of the singles titles at Wimbledon are fairly high, with Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka a strong performer on grass, while Daniil Medvedev has won more matches than any other player on the men's tour so far this season.
The AELTC has stated that there will be a zero-tolerance approach at its venues to flags, symbols, or actions backing Russia and Belarus from anyone, including players and fans.