Tennis

Why no other tennis player can copy Russian who changed nationality to avoid Wimbledon ban

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There will be at least one Russian competing at Wimbledon this year despite the All England Club’s controversial ban. Natela Dzalamidze has entered the doubles draw after switching her nationality to Georgia shortly before the grass major gets underway on June 27.

The 2022 Wimbledon Championships will be a unique affair after the All England Club barred all Russian and Belarusian athletes amid the ongoing invasion of Ukraine. The ATP and WTA responded by stripping the tournament of its ranking points, deterring certain stars like Naomi Osaka from taking part.

The ban means star names like Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev (both Russian) and Aryna Sabalenka (Belarusian) will not appear at SW19. Dzalamidze has exploited a loophole to compete, however, after successfully changing her nationality prior to the May 13 deadline.

Other Russian and Belarusian athletes have competed under a neutral flag since Russia’s siege of Ukraine began on February 24. It’s uncertain precisely what connections Dzalamidze holds with Georgia, though The Times reported her first and last names both originate from the country.

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“Player nationality, defined as the flag they play under at professional events, is an agreed process that is governed by tours and the ITF,” said a spokesperson for the All England Club. Moscow-born Dzalamidze—who spent this year’s pre-season training in the Ukraininian capital of Kyiv—had to provide a valid Georgian passport before she could switch allegiances.

The approved change means the 29-year-old is free to take part in the women’s doubles tournament alongside Serb partner Aleksandra Krunic. Dzalamidze reached a career-high doubles ranking of 43rd in the world last month, having only won her first doubles title in October 2021.

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Wimbledon officials were put under pressure to take action over Russian and Belarusian representatives after the British government suggested players should only compete if they publicly denounced the war. This comes with difficulties for high-profile figures, however, whose families and loved ones could be put at risk for criticising Vladimir Putin’s regime.

Contrary to the suspension of players at SW19, the U.S. Open recently confirmed players from both Russia and Belarus will be allowed to participate in New York later this summer. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg recently warned German daily Bild the conflict between Russia and Ukraine “could take years.”

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