Russian tennis players still banned from Paris 2024 despite suspension lifted. GETTY IMAGES

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) has lifted the ban on Russians and Belarusians from the Games, but its rules would prevent them from qualifying because of an impossible requirement they cannot meet due to suspensions in recent years.

The ITF announced the end of the ban on Russian and Belarusian tennis players for the Paris 2024 Olympics on Wednesday, a decision that appeared to open the doors to both nations, albeit as neutrals. The world governing body of tennis was unequivocal in an official statement.

"The International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee will allow qualified and eligible athletes with Russian and Belarusian passports to compete at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games as Individual Neutral Athletes ('INA') and at the Paralympic Games as Neutral Paralympic Athletes ('NPA')," it said.

"The ITF's decision is in line with that of the majority of International Federations (IFs) for the individual sports and that will be involved in the Paris 2024 Games this summer. The ITF's position is also in line with the existing international tennis policy adopted in March 2022," the statement concluded.

Russia's Daniil Medvedev could miss out on Paris 2024. GETTY IMAGES
Russia's Daniil Medvedev could miss out on Paris 2024. GETTY IMAGES

The rule allowing this would seem to make it easy for renowned Russian and Belarusian tennis players to take part, but this will not be the case as the doors have been opened to the great players of both nationalities, but with an almost insurmountable hurdle.

"Neutral athletes must meet the selection and eligibility requirements set out in the current ITF rules," the note said, referring to the rules that apply to any tennis player wishing to participate, but which have a direct impact on Russians and Belarusians in this Olympic process. This almost insurmountable hurdle is outlined in another rule of the international rules that apply to all professional tennis players, Rule 7.1.5 of the Eligibility Rules.

This rule states that players wishing to participate in the Olympic Games must have fulfilled the minimum requirements for participation in the ITF Davis Cup or ITF Billie Jean King Cup competitions during the Olympic cycle.

World number two Aryna Sabalenka is another star who could miss out on Paris 2024. GETTY IMAGES
World number two Aryna Sabalenka is another star who could miss out on Paris 2024. GETTY IMAGES

The specific minimum requirement is that players must have responded to the national team call up "on at least two occasions during the Olympic Cycle" (Monday, 10 August 2020 and ending on 24 June 2024), with at least one occasion being within the last two years, something that Russian and Belarusian players will not be able to prove as they have been suspended due to the war in Ukraine.

As a result, while the rule allows Russian and Belarusian tennis players to participate in Paris 2024, the rule requiring them to have played matches cannot be fulfilled as no player from these two countries has been able to participate or will have the opportunity to do so in the 2024 calendar.

The door has been opened, but an almost insurmountable obstacle has been placed in front of them. In practice, it is not categorically impossible to overcome, as there is still a chance, albeit minimal, that players will be allowed to play in exceptional circumstances, as was the case with Rafael Nadal, apart from the injuries that have prevented him from playing in recent Davis Cup matches.