Tennis players from Russia and Belarus will be allowed to compete at Wimbledon this summer after tournament officials reversed a policy that had barred them last year in the months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The decision to lock out the players last year had drawn criticism inside tennis at the time, and its reversal had been expected. Wimbledon officials announced the change in a statement in which they said keeping the policy in place would be “damaging” to the tournament, which is the most prestigious in the sport, and to tennis itself.
The biggest beneficiaries of the move could be Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, who won the Australian Open in January and is ranked second in the world, and Daniil Medvedev, the 2021 United States Open champion, who is fifth in the men’s rankings. Both missed Wimbledon last year under the old policy.
To be eligible this year under Wimbledon’s new rules, players from Russia and Belarus must compete as “neutral athletes,” without anthems, flags and other nationalist trappings, and must not express support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Sponsorship from state-owned companies also will be forbidden.
Many sports moved quickly to make Russia and Belarus sporting pariahs last year as punishment for their countries’ roles in the invasion of Ukraine, but Wimbledon was the only tennis Grand Slam to bar players outright. While support for Ukraine is widespread in tennis, Wimbledon’s ban — a joint move with Britain’s Lawn Tennis Association, which controls the sport there — was criticized inside the sport as a troubling precedent.
In a statement released Friday, Ian Hewitt, the chairman of the All England Club, which runs and hosts the Wimbledon championships, said the organization continues to condemn the invasion and to support 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,” Hewitt said. “It is our view that, considering all factors, these are the most appropriate arrangements for the Championships for this year.”
But Wimbledon also acknowledged that its policy had made it an outlier in tennis, and that maintaining it was not an option.
“There was a strong and very disappointing reaction from some governing bodies in tennis to the position taken by the All England Club and the L.T.A. last year,” Wimbledon’s statement said, “with consequences which, if continued, would be damaging to the interests of players, fans, the Championships and British tennis.”
Hewitt said the club would reconsider the position if circumstances shifted before the tournament, which is scheduled to begin on July 3.