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Wimbledon bans Russian and Belarusian players over invasion of Ukraine

The All England Club barred athletes Russian and Belarusian players from Wimbledon. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press)

Wimbledon on Wednesday barred players from Russia and Belarus from playing in this year’s tournament because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a decision that will affect two of the world’s highest-ranked players.

Russia’s Daniil Medvedev, who was briefly the world’s No. 1 men’s player and is now ranked second to Novak Djokovic, and Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, the world’s fourth-ranked women’s player, will not be permitted to play in the tournament, which runs from June 27 to July 10.

“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” in the tournament, the All England Club said in a statement.

Wimbledon became the first Grand Slam tournament to take such an action. Russian and Belarusian players will be allowed to compete in next month’s French Open, the second of the sport’s Grand Slams.

As the pending action was reported Wednesday, it was quickly condemned by Russia. “The Kremlin considers the removal of Russian athletes from Wimbledon unacceptable,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “[Players] are again being made the hostages of political intrigues.”

Despite calling Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “reprehensible,” the Association of Tennis Professionals called Wimbledon’s decision “unfair” and said it “has the potential to set a damaging precedent for the game.” The organization also said it would review what steps it could take to reverse the decision.

“Discrimination based on nationality also constitutes a violation of our agreement with Wimbledon that states that player entry is based solely on ATP Rankings,” the ATP, which oversees men’s tennis, added in a statement. “Any course of action in response to this decision will now be assessed in consultation with our Board and Member councils.”

Tennis players from both countries have continued to compete since the Russian invasion but have been prevented from playing under their national flags. In the world rankings compiled by the ATP and the Women’s Tennis Association, those players’ names list no countries.

Other international sports organizations, though, have barred Russian athletes and teams. Russian skaters were banned from the world figure skating championships in March, and Russian national and club teams were banned from soccer competitions by the sport’s governing body.

The All England Club said in its statement that it wanted to “express our ongoing support for all those impacted by the conflict in Ukraine during these shocking and distressing times” and that it had taken into account guidance from the British government and “our duties to the players, to our community and to the broader UK public as a British sporting institution.”

“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 club said.

The club said it would consider altering its policy “if circumstances change materially between now and June.”

The move affects a handful of players, none more prominent than Medvedev, who lost in Wimbledon’s fourth round in 2021 and was the second choice in betting markets to win this year’s event. Medvedev, 26, won the U.S. Open last year and was a finalist in the Australian Open in 2021 and 2022; he is recovering from hernia surgery. Russia’s Andrey Rublev, 24, is ranked eighth in the world.

Sabalenka was a Wimbledon and U.S. Open semifinalist last year. Others affected include Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the world’s 15th-ranked women’s player, who has called for an end to the war, and Victoria Azarenka of Belarus. Azarenka, who is ranked 18th and is a former world No. 1, is a two-time Australian Open winner.

British sports minister Nigel Huddleston previously said that “nobody flying the flag for Russia should be allowed” to play at Wimbledon, but WTA head Steve Simon told BBC Sport in March that players from Russia and Belarus should not be banned.

Olga Savchuk, the captain of the Ukrainian team that competed last week in the Billie Jean King Cup against the United States, has called for Russian players to be banned. “It cannot just be a sanction against 90 percent of the Russian people and 10 percent not,” she told the New York Times. “It has to be even, and I think it is collective guilt.”

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