Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal Criticize Wimbledon Decision to Ban Russian, Belarusian Athletes

Wimbledon has banned Russian and Belarusian players from participating in this year's tournament amid the ongoing war in Ukraine

Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal
Photo: Karl Bridgeman/Getty; Angel Martinez/Getty

Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal are speaking out against Wimbledon's recent ban on Russian and Belarusian players amid the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Speaking to reporters on Sunday ahead of the Madrid Open, Murray said he was "not supportive" of players being barred from competition, but noted he understands that there is no "right answer" to handle the "difficult" situation.

"My understanding of the guidance was that Russians and Belarusians can play if they sign a declaration that they're against the war and against the Russian regime," the British tennis star, 34, said. "I'm not sure how comfortable I would feel if something happened to one of the players or their families [as a result of signing]."

"I feel for everyone, feel for the players that can't play, and I don't support one side or the other," Murray, who is donating all of his prize money this season to humanitarian relief in Ukraine, added.

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LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 12: Roger Federer of Switzerland in action during the Men's Singles Semi Final against Rafael Nadal of Spain (not pictured) at The Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championship at the All England Lawn and Tennis Club at Wimbledon on July 12, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Simon Bruty/Anychance/Getty Images)
Wimbledon 2019. Simon Bruty/Anychance/Getty

Nadal also denounced the Wimbledon ban of Russian and Belarusian athletes.

"I think it's very unfair [to] my Russian tennis mates, my colleagues," the Spanish tennis star, 35, said during Sunday's press conference. "It's not their fault what's happening in this moment with the war."

"I'm sorry for them, Wimbledon just took their decision ... the government didn't force them to do it," he added. "Let's see what happens in the next weeks, if the players will take some kind of decision in that regard."

Many Ukrainian players have supported Wimbledon's ban, including Sergiy Stakhovsky, who retired earlier this year and joined the Ukrainian army to help during the war. Stakhovsky quickly criticized Nadal's comments on social media.

"@RafaelNadal we competed together.. we've played each other on tour," he tweeted. "Please tell me how it is fair that Ukrainian players cannot return home? How it is fair that Ukrainian kids cannot ply tennis? How is it fair that Ukrainians are dying ?"

A picture shows the Wimbledon logo at the All England Lawn Tennis Club in west London on June 27, 2020 the weekend before the Wimbledon Championships tennis tournament were due to start on June 29. - There was none of the usual bustle of preparations the Saturday before the top tennis stars would normally decend on Wimbledon for The Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis Club. The Championships, which were due to start on June 29, have been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE (Photo by Bob MARTIN / AELTC / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE (Photo by BOB MARTIN/AELTC/AFP via Getty Images)

Wimbledon officials first announced their decision in a statement in April: "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."

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

Despite criticism, All England Club officials defended the "agonizing decision," saying the ban was "the only viable option for Wimbledon."

The last time athletes from certain countries were banned from participating in Wimbledon was after World War II, when German and Japanese athletes, among others, could not play, according to the New York Times.

During a press conference last week, Chief Executive Sally Bolton cited the club's "responsibility to play our part in limiting the possibility of Wimbledon being used to justify the harm being done to others by the Russian regime."

Wimbledon is scheduled to kick off June 27 and end July 10. The event, which is one of the four Grand Slam tournaments, would have seen a number of highly ranked Russian and Belarusian players: No. 2 Daniil Medvedev and No. 15 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia, and No. 4 Aryna Sabalenka and No. 18 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus.

Wimbledon is not the only major sporting event to introduce sanctions due to the war in Ukraine. Russian and Belarusian athletes are also banned from the upcoming 2022 World Cup, among other major events.

The Russian attack on Ukraine is an evolving story, with information changing quickly. Follow PEOPLE's complete coverage of the war here, including stories from citizens on the ground and ways to help.

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