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ATP farce the latest in a long line of PR disasters that shame tennis

A recent incident labelled ‘sexist’ and a ‘disgrace’ has added another chapter to a sorry 2017 story for tennis. DW’s Ed McCambridge takes a look at what exactly is going on within the sport.

It’s been a strange time of late in the world of tennis. Which is actually saying a lot, given that the next controversy never seems to be more than a well-placed backhand from causing a stir on social media. The latest maelstrom, however, is farcical even by current standards.

For those that missed it, the ATP was forced to apologize on Monday, following a draw ceremony that was branded both ‘sexist’ and a ‘disgrace’ by those both inside and outside the game, including former world number one Amelie Mauresmo (pictured, top).

Male participants in Milan’s Next Gen tournament had just been asked to draw their group by selecting which model they found most attractive. One player was even asked to pull off a woman’s glove with his teeth. Yes, seriously.

The stunt backfired and the ATP and Red Bull – who sponsor the tournament – issued a joint statement of regret.

“ATP and Red Bull apologise for the offence caused by the draw ceremony for the Next Gen ATP Finals,” it said. “The intention was to integrate Milan’s rich heritage as one of the fashion capitals of the world. However, our execution of the proceedings was in poor taste and unacceptable. We deeply regret this and will ensure that there is no repeat of anything like it in the future.”

Even in isolation, this type of incident would be a pretty damning episode in any sport. Tennis has made a habit of putting its foot in it, though, with players, reporters and coaches taking on the association in a “who can make the sport look worse” contest.

Racist remarks and sorry apologies

This summer saw Ilie Nastase, a former grand-slam winner who was captaining Romainia’s Fed Cup team at the time, make racist remarks about Serena Williams’ then-unborn child. If that wasn’t enough, he then asked Great Britain’s captain Anne Keothavang for her hotel room number before verbally abusing British number one Johanna Konta. He apologized and admitted his comments weren’t well thought through. Well, that’s perfectly okay then, Ilie. Be about your business.

In July, Andy Murray corrected a reporter for overlooking the achievements of women at Wimbledon. The journalist had just started asking a question by stating that Sam Querrey was the first US player to reach a semi-final since 2009, overlooking the fact that Serena Williams was, at the time, the incumbent female champion.

Murray was praised, and rightly so. But the fact that he even needed to point that out to someone’s whose job it was to report on the sport is a sad indictment in itself.

Add these – and a thousand other stories like them – to the perennial grumblings over player wages, gender inequality and doping, and it’s plain to see that the sport is suffering from a major PR crisis.

The ATP oversight is perhaps the worst of all, however. The governing body is supposed to be above this type of thing but has proved, unequivocally, that is isn’t.

The official slogan of the Next Gen tournament is ‘the future is now’. What we’ve seen, though, shows that the sport is still very much in the dark ages.