Only viable option: Wimbledon defends ban on Russian, Belarusian players

LONDON, April 26 (Reuters) - Banning Russian and Belarusian players from this year's Wimbledon championships was the only viable option under the guidance provided by the British government, the organisers of the grass court Grand Slam said on Tuesday.

The All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) took the decision in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the stand was swiftly condemned by the men's and women's tours. read more

AELTC Chairman Ian Hewitt said the government guidance did not allow players to compete at the tournament based on their rankings and there were two available options -- declining entries, or allowing entries but only with specific written declarations from individual players.

"We believe we have made the most responsible decision possible in the circumstances," Hewitt told reporters, adding that they are having regular discussions with players and the ATP and the WTA.

"And that within the framework of the governance position, there's no viable alternative to the decision we have taken in this truly exceptional and tragic situation."

The move is the first time players have been banned on the grounds of nationality since the immediate post-World War Two era when German and Japanese players were excluded.

Wimbledon is also the first tennis tournament to ban individual competitors from the two countries, meaning men's world number two Daniil Medvedev from Russia and women's fourth-ranked Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus will be banned from the June 27-July 10 tournament.

Tennis governing bodies have banned Russia and Belarus from international team competitions following the invasion, but allowed players from the two countries to continue competing as neutrals. read more

Tennis - Wimbledon - All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, London, Britain - July 2, 2019 General view of the Wimbledon logo on the base of the handle of a tennis racquet REUTERS/Andrew Couldridge

The ATP and the WTA denounced the AELTC decision as "discriminatory" with Steve Simon, the women's tour chief, last week warning of "strong reactions". read more

"We believe this is an extreme and exceptional situation that takes us far beyond the interests of tennis alone," said Hewitt, adding that Russian media outlets will also be declined accreditation.

"We understand and deeply regret the impact this decision will have on every individual affected - and so many innocent people are suffering as a result of this terrible war."

AELTC also confirmed that there will be no COVID-19 measures in place at the 2022 tournament and vaccination will not be mandatory for players to participate, which will allow Serbian world number one Novak Djokovic to defend his title.

Players will also be allowed to stay in their own private accommodation, unlike the last edition when they had to all stay in a central London hotel to minimise the risks of COVID-19 infections.

Djokovic, a 20-time major champion, was denied a chance to defend his Australian Open title in January due to his unvaccinated status. read more

After an 11-day rollercoaster involving two visa cancellations, two court challenges and five nights in two stints at an immigration detention hotel, Djokovic was deported from Australia before the year's first major began in Melbourne.

"The requirements set up do not include mandatory vaccination," AELTC Chief Executive Sally Bolton said. "It will not be a condition of entry for the championships this year."

Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Christian Radnedge

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