Wimbledon officials have confirmed they intend to ban Russian and Belarusian players from this year’s tournament due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Belarusian support for war .

The ban would make Wimbledon the first Grand Slam tennis event to prevent Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing. In a statement on Wednesday afternoon, Wimbledon confirmed that other tennis tournaments to be held this year in the UK plan to take the same approach.

“Given the profile of the Championships in the UK 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 the global influence of Russia by the strongest possible means,” the statement read said.

“Under the circumstances of such unjustified and unprecedented military aggression, it would be unacceptable for the Russian regime to derive benefits from the involvement of Russian or Belarusian players in the championships.”

Wimbledon, one of the four Grand Slam tournaments, is due to start at the end of June. The tournament, in its statement, left open the possibility of revising its position, stating that “if circumstances change materially by June, we will review and respond accordingly.”

The decision would exclude a number of highly ranked players. Four Russian men are ranked in the top 30 on the ATP Tour, including No. 2 Daniil Medvedev, who is the defending US Open men’s singles champion, although he is recovering from hernia surgery. Russia has five women in the top 40 of the WTA Tour rankings, led by 15th-placed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus is ranked No. 4 and was a Wimbledon semi-finalist last year. His compatriot Victoria Azarenka, former No. 1, is ranked No. 18.

After the war began in February, professional tennis organizers were quick to ban the Russians and their Belarusian allies from team events like the Davis Cup and the Billie Jean King Cup, both of which were won by Russian teams in 2021. The sport’s seven governing bodies announced the ban collectively on March 1.

And the men’s and women’s tours to Moscow later this season have been canceled, as have a number of lower-tier events in Russia and Belarus. The International Tennis Federation also announced the suspension of the Russian Tennis Federation and the Belarusian Tennis Federation from the ITF.

But Russian and Belarusian players have been allowed to continue participating in the professional tours as individuals, but without any national identification. There are no longer any flags or countries listed next to their names on scoreboards, in draws, or in published computer leaderboards.

Credit…Adrian Dennis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

But there have been calls for the outright banning of several former and current Ukrainian players, including rising female star Marta Kostyuk and former player Olga Savchuk, captain of Ukraine’s Billie Jean King Cup team, who faced USA in Asheville, NC last week.

“I think it’s just a matter of time,” Savchuk said in an interview. “It’s not me who makes the decision, but I think they should also be banned from playing as individuals. It can’t just be a punishment against 90% of the Russian people and 10 % Nope.

“It has to be equal,” added Savchuk. “And I think it’s collective guilt.”

But while some other international sports, including athletics and figure skating, have banned Russian and Belarusian athletes from participating in certain competitions, professional tennis has taken a more conservative approach.

Alexandr Dolgopolov, a former Ukrainian tennis star who is now in the Ukrainian military, expressed his support for Wimbledon’s decision. “Yes, Russians are responsible for the actions of their country, their military and the leaders they choose for 20 years,” Dolgopolov said in a Twitter post.

Officials of the men’s and women’s tours argued that Russian and Belarusian players should not be blamed for their country’s invasion or politics and pointed out that several top players, including Russian stars Andrey Rublev, have ranked No. 8 in men’s singles, and Pavlyuchenkova spoke out against the war.

Credit…Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

“I strongly believe that again, these individual athletes should not be the ones who are penalized by the decisions of an authoritarian leadership that is obviously doing terrible and reprehensible things,” said WTA Chief Steve Simon. . said in a BBC interview last month. “But if that happens, which again is part of the overall strategy of making Russia and Russian citizens pay for the consequences of the decision their government has made, then it’s not going to be something we’ll support.”

Wimbledon, the oldest Grand Slam tournament, is likely to be an outlier on this question. The French Open, which begins next month and is the next Grand Slam event on the calendar, has not indicated any intention to ban individual players. No more than the US Open, which will be held in New York at the end of August and the beginning of September. For now, regular touring events – like this week’s events in Barcelona, ​​Spain; Belgrade, Serbia; Istanbul; and Stuttgart, Germany – proceed with the Russians and Belarusians in their draws.

But Wimbledon, which begins June 27 in London, has come under considerable pressure from the UK government, led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, to take a tougher stance. Nigel Huddleston, Britain’s sports minister, told a parliamentary hearing last month that Russian players like Medvedev may need to provide “assurances” that they are not supporting President Vladimir V. Putin to play at Wimbledon.

But the tournament, arguably still the sport’s most prestigious, has apparently decided not to require players to speak out against their governments for fear it could put them or their families in a precarious situation. A ban, while not part of the initial thinking of Wimbledon officials, would prevent players from having to make such a choice.

Wimbledon did not ban individual athletes from specific countries since the aftermath of World War II when players from Germany, Japan and other nations were not allowed to participate in the tournament.