Culture secretary confident players won’t breach neutrality rules at Wimbledon

Culture secretary confident players won’t breach neutrality rules at Wimbledon

Culture secretary Lucy Frazer is confident Russian and Belarusian players will abide by strict neutrality rules allowing them to return to Wimbledon.

Players from the two countries were banned from competing at the All England Club in 2022 following the invasion of Ukraine.

They are permitted to take part in this year’s Championship, which begins on Monday, but must follow a series of guidelines outlined by the government.

Culture secretary Lucy Frazer was speaking in Eastbourne as part of a £30million investment by the government and LTA to refurbish 1,000 public tennis courts across the UK
Culture secretary Lucy Frazer was speaking in Eastbourne as part of a £30million investment by the government and LTA to refurbish 1,000 public tennis courts across the UK (Victoria Jones/PA)

Frazer, who is in charge of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, believes it would have been “totally inappropriate” to not impose conditions in relation to the ongoing war.

“We’re really looking forward to Wimbledon, it’s one of the most important competitions in the calendar,” she told the PA news agency.

“We’ve made our position very clear: there are certain circumstances in which it would be totally inappropriate for Russian and Belarussian tennis players to take part.

“We put that in our guidance and that is being followed by Wimbledon.

“There are procedures in place to ensure that they don’t (breach the rules) and I’m confident that those will be followed appropriately.”

Men's world number three Daniil Medvedev is among the Russian players able to return to Wimbledon
Men’s world number three Daniil Medvedev is among the Russian players able to return to Wimbledon (Steven Paston/PA)

Wimbledon will fall in line with the other three Grand Slams by allowing Russian and Belarusian players to compete.

Men’s world number three Daniil Medvedev and Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka, ranked second by the WTA, are among those set to return.

Participation was dependent on players signing a personal declaration of neutrality, meaning they cannot express support for the invasion of Ukraine, or for the leadership of Russian president Vladimir Putin or his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko.

Players may also not be in receipt of state sponsorship, while they cannot be seen with any item containing a symbol which might indicate support for the war, or the Russian and Belarusian regimes.

With the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris on the horizon, Frazer believes it is important there is a unified international stance on the situation.

LTA chief executive Scott Lloyd, top right, chats with the Princess of Wales at Wimbledon in 2021
LTA chief executive Scott Lloyd, top right, chats with the Princess of Wales at Wimbledon in 2021 (Joe Toth/AELTC/PA)

“As a country we are working with other countries in relation to, for example, the Olympics,” she said, speaking in Eastbourne as part of a £30million investment by the government and LTA which has led to 1,000 public tennis courts across the UK being refurbished.

“I held a summit with around 35 other countries to set our position in relation to the Olympics because we need to ensure that across the world we’re taking the same international stance.”

LTA chief executive Scott Lloyd says guidelines for Russian and Belarusian players have been respected at warm-up competitions for Wimbledon, such as Queen’s and the ongoing Rothesay International at Eastbourne.

“We’ve worked extremely closely with the government and indeed the international tennis tours – the ATP, the WTA, the ITF – to ensure that there is a process in place that follows the UK government guidance and makes sure that players are able to play on the specific terms that that lays out,” he said.

“It’s worked well so far over the last few weeks of grass court tournaments here in Britain and I’m certain that will continue into the Championships next week.

“Those relationships with the tours are extremely strong and we are all aligned in making sure that the tournaments go according to plan.”