Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic has slammed the decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players from competing at Wimbledon this year, describing the move as "crazy."
"I will always condemn war, I will never support war being myself a child of war," the world No. 1 told reporters at the Serbia Open following the Wednesday announcement that Russian and Belarusian players will not be allowed to compete at this year's competition because of the war in Ukraine.
Djokovic was just 11 years old when he suffered air strikes on the Serbian capital, which marked the beginning of what would be a 78-day campaign by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to allow ethnic Albanians in the province of Kosovo to separate the historical Serbian territory from Belgrade's authority.
"I know how much emotional trauma it leaves. In Serbia, we all know what happened in 1999. In the Balkans, we have had many wars in recent history," he told reporters.
"However, I cannot support the decision of Wimbledon, I think it is crazy. When politics interferes with sport, the result is not good."
Wimbledon on Wednesday announced and defended their decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players from this year's tournament.
"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 All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) said in a statement.
"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.
"It is therefore our intention, with deep regret, to decline entries from Russian and Belarusian players to The Championships 2022," it added.
The Kremlin said earlier on Wednesday that a ban on Russian players taking part at Wimbledon as a result of Russia's invasion of Ukraine is "unacceptable."
The ban on Russian players will prevent several high ranked players from competing at the iconic grass court grand slam.
Four Russian men, including world number two and reigning US Open champion Daniil Medvedev, are currently ranked in the top 30 of the ATP Tour.
Russia has five women in the top 40 of the WTA Tour rankings.
Belarus' Aryna Sabalenka is currently ranked fourth in the world and was a Wimbledon semifinalist last year while compatriot Victoria Azarenka, a former world No. 1, is currently ranked No. 18.
The AELTC's decision is the first time Russian and Belarusian players have been prohibited from competing in an elite tennis event.
Belarus tennis officials condemned the Wimbledon ban.
“The Belarusian Tennis Federation categorically condemns the decision taken by the organisers of Wimbledon to suspend Belarusian and Russian tennis players,” it said in a statement.
“Such destructive actions in no way contribute to the resolution of conflicts, but only incite hatred and intolerance on a national basis.”
The Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA), the breakaway players’ body launched by Djokovic in 2020, said it was committed to protecting the tennis community having heard the experiences of individuals impacted by the war.
“As major competitions throughout our sport contemplate banning Russian and Belarusian athletes, we have to reflect and understand that many of them have lost their freedom of choice and expression, due to the laws being enforced by the Russian and Belarus Federations,” the PTPA said in a statement.
“Speaking against Russian or Belarus or denouncing the invasion may result in imprisonment.”
Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina said Russian and Belarusian players who denounce Moscow’s invasion of her country should be allowed to participate at Wimbledon.
Medvedev made a plea for peace on Twitter in February while his compatriot Andrey Rublev wrote “No War Please” on the lens of a TV camera on his way to winning the Dubai title.