Unvaccinated players and spectators will be allowed to be present at this summer’s Wimbledon, even if Russians and Belarusians are not.
The All England Club have prevented any chance of a repeat of January’s fiasco involving Novak Djokovic and the Australian Open, when he was deported as the event began.
The defending men’s champion, one of the few players who has refused to receive a jab, will be back, although his female counterpart Ash Barty has retired. Djokovic is set to be the top seed in the absence of his main rival for No 1, Russia’s Daniil Medvedev.
Novak Djokovic will be able to defend his Wimbledon title after the All England Club announced there will be no Covid restrictions at this year’s Championships
Sticking doggedly to a script, the All England Club’s hierarchy have publicly defended their position on banning players.
‘We believe this is an extreme and exceptional situation that takes us far beyond the interests of tennis alone,’ said chairman Ian Hewitt.
The assertion was repeated that getting players to sign a declaration was unworkable. Chief executive Sally Bolton refused to say if any Russians had offered to put their name to a statement if it would allow them entry.
Later, Wimbledon and the Lawn Tennis Association received their first public support from other bodies for their stance, with Nordic tennis federations, including Sweden, putting out a declaration of endorsement.
The unvaccinated Djokovic was booted out of Australia ahead of the Australian Open earlier this year amid tight coronavirus restrictions
For the first time since 2019, Wimbledon will operate at full capacity of 42,000 spectators a day, although around 40 competitors look sure to be banished, barring some miraculous turn of events in Ukraine. The traditional queue will be back, in another sign of normality restored.
Wimbledon also confirmed that with the fallow middle Sunday now abolished, the fourth round of the singles will be played over days seven and eight.
Another change this year will be the extension of post-match interviews done on court for the crowd to hear. A success on Center Court, they will be extended to the four largest arenas.
Play on Center Court will start at 1.30pm, with a half-hour gap between matches. This will mean Wimbledon’s transition into a tournament that regularly features night play will continue.
There are no plans for any coronavirus restrictions this time after two disrupted years of the London Grand Slam.
Twenty-time Slam winner Djokovic, who has made clear he is not vaccinated against the virus, was barred from playing at the Australian Open back in January and booted out of the country by the Government.
Djokovic, 34, will also be able to compete at the French Open after organisers in Paris dropped all Covid restrictions.
The relaxation of Covid rules means capacity crowds will return to Wimbledon this summer
The Serbian has won the Wimbledon men’s singles title six times, including last year when he defeated Italian Matteo Berretini in straight sets.
The 2020 Wimbledon Championships was canceled amid the pandemic, while the 2021 edition took place in front of restricted crowds up until the semi-finals.
This year’s tournament will take place between June 27 and July 10.
Speaking at Wimbledon’s spring briefing, chief executive Sally Bolton said: ‘As you will be aware, the requirements set out by government to enter the UK do not include mandatory vaccination and, therefore, while of course it is encouraged, it will not be a conditional entry to compete at the Championships this year. ‘
Wimbledon was only at half-capacity for much of last year’s Championship amid Covid
BIG NAMES WHO WILL MISS OUT AT SW19
World ranking: 2
Wimbledon 2021 result: Fourth round
World ranking: 8
Wimbledon 2021 result: Fourth round
World ranking: 4
Wimbledon 2021 result: Semi-finals
World ranking: 15
Wimbledon 2021 result: Third round
World ranking: 18
Wimbledon 2021 result: Second round
Bolton added: ‘We are planning to return to a normal Championships this year. And so we don’t intend to implement any of the Covid-19 measures that we saw last year in any substantial fashion.
‘But we are, of course, keeping it on our radar in case we need to take further action when we continue to engage with DCMS, public health officials and with other sports.
‘But this means that players will be able to return to their own choice of accommodation. We will see full capacity crowds for the whole event. And we’re absolutely thrilled to welcome back the wider tennis family to Wimbledon this year. ‘
The relaxation of the rules also allows players competing to move more freely around London during the tournament.
Players and a three-person support team each all stayed at the same hotel last year and were not allowed to go anywhere other than the SW19 site for matches and practice.
Regular Covid testing was in place within the ‘bubble’ and they had to travel to and from the hotel in official transport.
The top-ranked British women’s player, Johanna Konta, was forced to withdraw and quarantine after a member of her team tested positive for Covid.
Djokovic, who had tested positive for Covid in mid-December, was initially granted an exemption from the mandatory vaccination rule to enter the Australian Open in Melbourne.
But he was detained by the Australian Border Force when he attempted to enter Australia on January 5. His visa was canceled and he was taken to an immigration detention hotel to await a court hearing.
Five days later, Djokovic was released after the Federal Circuit and Family Court ruled against the Border Force ban.
Russia’s Daniil Medvedev will have to sit out of Wimbledon having been barred from playing
However, Australian immigration minister Alex Hawke exercised special powers to cancel Djokovic’s visa for a second time, even though he’d started on-court preparations for his first match and was included in the draw.
Djokovic’s judicial review of the deportation decision was rejected and he was forced to leave the country.
But in an interview with the BBC, Djokovic said he was willing to forego the chance to win future Slams in order to stick to his principles.
However, the easing of the pandemic means Djokovic will be able to add to his 20 Slam titles at the French Open and then Wimbledon this summer.
Meanwhile, Wimbledon was left with ‘no viable alternative’ but to ban Russian and Belarusian players from this year’s Championship, chairman Ian Hewitt said at the All England Club’s spring briefing.
Expanding on last week’s announcement that Wimbledon and the preceding grass-court events would be the first individual tennis tournaments to bar players from the two countries, Hewitt stressed the role of the UK Government.
Victoria Azarenka is another who can’t compete at SW19 due to her Belarusian nationality
He said: ‘The UK Government has set out directive guidance for sporting bodies and events in the UK with specific aim of limiting Russia’s influence.
‘We have considered at length the options available. These are in effect two options: declining entries or allowing entries but only with specific declarations (against the invasion of Ukraine) from individual players.
‘We considered a wide variety of factors. After lengthy and careful consideration, we came to two firm conclusions.
‘First, even if we were to accept entries (from Russian and Belarusian players) with written declarations, we would risk their success or participation being used to benefit the propaganda machine of the Russian regime, which we could not accept.
‘Second, we have a duty to ensure no actions should put players or their families at risk. We understand and deeply regret the impact this will have on all the people affected.
‘We believe we have made the most responsible decision possible. We believe (given Government guidance) there is no viable alternative in this truly exceptional and tragic situation. ‘