Wimbledon bars players from Russia, Belarus due to war in Ukraine

Tennis players from Russia and Belarus will not be allowed to compete at Wimbledon this year due to Russia's "unjustified" invasion of Ukraine, the All England Club announced Wednesday.

"Given the profile of The Championships in the United Kingdom and around the world, it is our responsibility to play our part in the widespread efforts of Government, industry, sporting and creative institutions to limit Russia's global influence through the strongest means possible," the All England Club said in a statement. "In the circumstances of such unjustified and unprecedented military aggression, it would be unacceptable for the Russian regime to derive any benefits from the involvement of Russian or Belarusian players with The Championships.

"It is therefore our intention, with deep regret, to decline entries from Russian and Belarusian players to The Championships 2022."

The decision would be reconsidered "if circumstances change materially between now and June," the statement said.

Wimbledon begins June 27 and runs through July 10.

A ban on Russian players prevents world No. 2 Daniil Medvedev and No. 8 Andrey Rublev from competing in the men's draw. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is 15th in the women's rankings.

Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus is ranked No. 4 and was a Wimbledon semifinalist last year. Her compatriot Victoria Azarenka, a former No. 1, is ranked No. 18.

Belarus is a key staging area for the invasion, which Russia calls a "special operation."

Wimbledon has not banned athletes from countries since after World War II, when players from Germany and Japan were not allowed to compete.

Wednesday's move signals the first time a tennis tournament has told players from Russia and Belarus they are not welcome. The seven groups that run the sport around the world decided March 1 that players from those countries would be allowed to compete in WTA, ATP and Grand Slam tournaments but not under the name or flag of Russia or Belarus. Those nations also were kicked out of the Billie Jean King Cup and Davis Cup team competitions.

Russian and Belarusian players will be allowed to compete at the French Open, which begins May 22, but as neutral athletes. The U.S. Tennis Association, which runs the US Open, said Wednesday it has not made a decision about whether players from Russia and Belarus can compete at the year's final Grand Slam tournament, which begins Aug. 29.

Russian Tennis Federation president Shamil Tarpischev told the country's Sport Express newspaper that there was nothing it could do.

"I think this decision is wrong, but there is nothing we can change," Tarpischev said. "The [Russian] Tennis Federation has already done everything it could.

"I don't want to talk about this, but I will say that this decision goes against the athletes. ... We are working on the situation, that's all I can say."

The Kremlin said the ban was unacceptable and would hurt Wimbledon, given Russia's tennis prowess.

The All England Club said the British Lawn Tennis Association will also bar Russian and Belarusian players from competing in U.K. events "to ensure that British tennis is delivering a consistent approach across the summer."

"We recognise that this is hard on the individuals affected, and it is with sadness that they will suffer for the actions of the leaders of the Russian regime," All England Club chairman Ian Hewitt said in a statement. "We have very carefully considered the alternative measures that might be taken within the UK Government guidance but, given the high profile environment of The Championships, the importance of not allowing sport to be used to promote the Russian regime and our broader concerns for public and player [including family] safety, we do not believe it is viable to proceed on any other basis at The Championships."

The ATP issued a statement Wednesday expressing its disagreement with the All England Club's decision.

"We believe that today's unilateral decision by Wimbledon and the LTA to exclude players from Russia and Belarus from this year's British grass-court swing is unfair and has the potential to set a damaging precedent for the game," the ATP said. "Discrimination based on nationality also constitutes a violation of our agreement with Wimbledon that states that player entry is based solely on ATP Rankings. Any course of action in response to this decision will now be assessed in consultation with our Board and Member councils."

The WTA also said it was "very disappointed" with the decision.

"As the WTA has consistently stated, individual athletes should not be penalized or prevented from competing due to where they are from, or the decisions made by the governments of their countries," the women's tour said in a statement. "The WTA will be evaluating its next steps and what actions may be taken regarding these decisions."

Some current and former tennis players from Ukraine, including two-time Grand Slam semifinalist Elina Svitolina and the recently retired Sergiy Stakhovsky, put up a statement on Twitter on Wednesday that called on the WTA, ATP and International Tennis Federation to ask players representing Russia and Belarus whether they support the invasion of Ukraine.

"In times of crisis, silence means agreeing with what is happening," the posts said. "We noticed that some Russian and Belarusian players at some point vaguely mentioned the war, but never clearly stating that Russia and Belarus started it on the territory of Ukraine."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.