(REUTERS) - Tennis players from Russia and Belarus will not be allowed to compete at this year's Wimbledon due to Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, the Grand Slam's organisers All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) said in a statement on Wednesday (April 20).
The AELTC said earlier this month it was in talks with the British government on the participation of players from Russia and Belarus in the June 27-July 10 grasscourt Grand Slam.
The body added on Wednesday that it had a responsibility to play its part in the efforts of government, industry, sporting and creative institutions to "limit Russia's global influence through the strongest means possible."
"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," Ian Hewitt, chairman of the AELTC said in a statement.
Hewitt said the AELTC had "carefully considered" 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," he said.
The AELTC, which earlier planned to announce a decision in mid-May before the entry deadline for the event, said it would "consider and respond accordingly" if circumstances change between now and June.
A ban on Russian players prevents world number two Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev, ranked eighth, from competing in the men's draw. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is 15th in the women's rankings.
Belarus is a key staging area for the invasion, which Russia calls a "special military operation."
Women's world number four Aryna Sabalenka and two-times Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka of Belarus will be affected. Tennis governing bodies had banned Russia and Belarus from international team competitions following the invasion. Individual players are contractors and many do not reside in their country of birth.
Russian and Belarusian players had been allowed to compete on tours but not under the name or flag of their countries. Russian Tennis Federation president Shamil Tarpischev told the country's Sport Express newspaper earlier 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."
Wimbledon has not banned athletes from countries since after World War II, when players from Germany and Japan were not allowed to compete.
The Lawn Tennis Association, whose events serve as Wimbledon warm-ups, also announced a ban on players from the two countries. Earlier, Ukrainian players Elina Svitolina and Marta Kostyuk issued statements calling for a blanket ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes from international events.
They were joined by countryman Sergiy Stakhovsky - who had enlisted in Ukraine's reserve army prior to Russia's invasion - with the players urging Russian and Belarusian players to make clear their stance on the war.
International athlete-led pressure group Global Athlete said that banning players from the two countries would also "protect these athletes who have no choice to remove themselves from competitions."
"These athletes must follow the orders from their countries'leaders," it added. British Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston said last month that he would not be comfortable with a "Russian athlete flying the Russian flag" and winning Wimbledon in London. Huddleston welcomed the latest decision.
"The UK has taken a leading role internationally to make clear that President (Vladimir) Putin must not be able to use sport to legitimise Russia's barbaric invasion of Ukraine," Huddleston said in a statement. "...We have set out our position with sport governing bodies and event organisers and will continue to encourage them to take appropriate action for their sport."