opinion | Tennis must comment on domestic violence allegations

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Ashish Malhotra is a freelance journalist based in New York.

The recent success of Australian tennis star Nick Kyrgios – who is playing at the Citi Open in DC this week, as one of his marquee names – has highlighted a worrying state of affairs in men’s tennis: the inability or unwillingness of its governing bodies and the mainstream tennis media to adequately address allegations of domestic violence.

Kyrgios’ dazzling game and inconsistent outbursts on the pitch have drawn attention for years fans and criticismlast in the Wimbledon final. However, what viewers may not know is that ahead of his Wimbledon quarter-finals, allegations surfaced that he had assaulted an ex-girlfriend; he has a court date for the event in Australia this month. (His lawyer has said Kyrgios “takes the allegation very seriously.”)

Kyrgios isn’t the only figure on the tour involved in a court case. Two lesser-known players Nikoloz Basilashvili from Georgia and Thiago Seyboth Wild from BrazilThey were accused of physically abusing ex-partners. (Both have denied the accusations.)

But perhaps the most prominent player involved in a scandal Germany’s Alexander Zverevwho was classified as high as #2 in the world.

As Zverev won gold At the Summer Olympics last summer, some tennis fans squirmed. At the end of 2020, Zverev was accused of domestic violence by an ex-girlfriend, allegations that journalist Ben Rothenberg described as vivid Racquet Magazine and slate. (Zverew said he was innocent.)

All of these players deserve due process. But the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), which runs the men’s tour, has shown a worrying lack of urgency in handling the allegations – and raised questions about how seriously it takes domestic violence.

The ATP has no clear policy describes what should happen when players are subjected to allegations. It took the organization more than a year to do this Initiate investigations against Zverev; the situation remains unresolved. Last month, the ATP made a statement on Kyrgios to Reuters and said it was aware of the case against him but it was “inappropriate to comment further” as the court case is ongoing.

That may be wise. But such tiptoeing sends an ugly message about the priorities of those at the top of men’s tennis, who care more about the sport’s image than the responsibility to act quickly on troubling claims. And it means that elite players accused of misconduct continue to be unabashedly promoted by the sport — and continue to go to court.

And much of the tennis media is playing along.

Just before Kyrgios’ Wimbledon quarter-finals on ESPN2, the station aired a deaf segment in which he touted his infamous antics – smashing racquets, berating umpires and his “team” – and then cut to the commentators laughing at it becomes. Other ESPN analysts called Kyrgios a “character” who is “good for tennis” and went as far as saying that everything about his personal life “seems to be good.”

The coverage reflected much of what surrounded Zverev. During his first four games at the US Open last year, ESPN did not mention any allegations of domestic violence. A segment on the allegations eventually aired on the day of Zverev’s quarterfinals; Once the game started, the issue was ignored. A journalist who interviewed Zverev for the German outlet Bild took it upon himself name the allegations”Nonsense.

For some – though not nearly enough – commentators this is unacceptable.

Catherine Whitaker, co-host of The Tennis Podcast‘ said ‘we should all be uncomfortable’ watching Zverev play and did lamented the failure of people in the tennis world even “saying the simple words ‘domestic violence is wrong.’ ”

“It’s not difficult,” Whitaker said. But “we rarely hear it because everyone would rather it was gone.”

One of the few to take a stand is Mary Carillo, who last year ended her role as commentator for the Laver Cup tournament that Zverev attended because the event was unwilling to address the issues of domestic violence.

“I don’t want to be part of the silence,” Carillo said the Behind the Racquet tennis podcast. “If you remain silent, it suggests that you are complicit.”

Tennis could and should do a lot more to show it’s not complicit.

Channels could provide better context on a player’s extrajudicial issues and drop the light-hearted interviews with players accused of domestic violence.

And the ATP could send a strong message about its values ​​by creating an appropriate code of conduct. Organizations like the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, and finally the National Football League have such codes. Although in some cases they have came up shortThey have also compelled officials to act: it was only this year that the MLB determined after its own investigation Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer has been suspended for 324 games on allegations of sexual assault, though the Los Angeles County District Attorney pursued no charges. (Bauer has denied the allegations and is appealing the league’s decision.)

Tennis continues on the easy track. But fans, including those watching the Citi Open, deserve to know more about the men cheering them on. Tennis sees itself as a noble sport. His evasions are a disgrace.

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