Russian and Belarusian tennis players will be banned from competing in this year’s Wimbledon due to Russia’s war on Ukraine and Belarusia’s support for it, tournament officials said Wednesday.
A ban, imposed by Wimbledon host All England Club against individual athletes from both countries, is the first in a tennis tournament due to the invasion.
It excludes a number of highly ranked Russian players, including No. 2 Daniil Medvedev, the reigning U.S. Open champion, and former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka. Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka, who was a Wimbledon semifinalist last year, is ranked No. 4.
“We recognize 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 Chair Ian Hewitt said in a statement.
A Kremlin spokesperson called a ban “unacceptable.”
“Once again they simply turn athletes into hostages to political prejudice, political intrigues,” spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters, according to The Moscow Times.
The decision to exclude Russian players from the London event was reportedly heightened by the British royal family’s objection to the potential of presenting the Wimbledon trophy to a Russian athlete, The Telegraph reported.
The British government had previously said Russian players would have to denounce their government and President Vladimir Putin in order to compete.
Russian athletes have faced a wide range of bans from international sports since their country’s invasion of Ukraine in late February. Belarus has been affected due to the country’s support of the invasion and its leader’s alliance with Putin.
Russian officials and athletes have filed multiple legal challenges in the wake of those bans, which have included the international football organization FIFA removing Russia’s men’s national team from qualifying in the World Cup.
Wimbledon is scheduled to begin in late June. A spokesperson for the event did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.