Guest post from SorryWatch Senior Tennis Correspondent Wendy Grossman.
One of the most commonly heard complaints of the suspicious tennis fan is this: the draw is fixed. The suspicious tennis fan is delusional, as I established last year. Draws are public. The press is there, also at least one professional player and representatives of other players to watch for foul play. They do whatever they can to dress up these draw ceremonies – draw rituals? – into something vaguely entertaining. One or two tournament representatives make speeches. At London’s Queen’s Club, a formally dressed steward in white gloves asks randomly selected audience members to draw a slip of paper out of a silver bowl; at other events someone hits a button on a computer. But there’s always some fanfare.
This year, the men’s tour (the ATP/Association of Tennis Professionals) opened a new event in Milan, the second-to-last-week-of-the-year “Next Gen” event for the best eight players aged between 18 and 21. The idea was to try to open up the game, which has been dominated by four now-30-somethings for more than a decade, to a new generation of players and fans. Like the tour finals, this is a round robin event in which each member of two four-man groups plays against each other to determine the semifinalists. The “draw,” therefore, consists of determining who goes in which group.
Someone decided to make this more interesting to view. So, yes, an apology will soon be needed.
The Milan organizers opted to have the players publicly discover their groups by choosing among a group of female models, then walking to the end of a runway with the model of his choice, and watching while she provocatively revealed either “A” or “B” from somewhere inside her clothing. One model pulled up her dress to reveal the letter written on her thigh. One required her player, South Korea’s Hyeon Chung, looking intensely uncomfortable, to pull off her long, black glove with his teeth to reveal it. The whole thing is so much horrifyingly worse than it sounds when you see the video.
After universal and widespread condemnation, including among those watching at the scene, the apology:
ATP and [tournament sponsor] Red Bull apologise for the offence caused by the draw ceremony for the Next Gen ATP Finals. 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.
On the Tennis Podcast, Catherine Whitaker pointed out the first thing wrong with that statement: they apologized for the offense, not the thing. I suspect that it’s PR people who try to rob such statements of any detail of what actually happened lest the details reach and anger people who don’t already know. Citing inside sources, the Tennis Podcast‘s David Law suggests the finger of blame should be pointed at new tennis sponsor Red Bull and that neither the Italian Tennis Federation, which organizes the tournament, nor the ATP knew much about the plan.
“In poor taste and unacceptable” is good. Less good is the implication that there might have been some way of “integrating” Milan’s history of fashion that would have been less unacceptable. I doubt that proposition.
Also bad: who are they apologizing to? One reason writers are instructed to avoid the passive voice is that it lacks attribution (see?). The statement implies that the ATP and Red Bull are only apologizing to people they’ve offended. People who weren’t offended – presumably because they don’t know about the event – may still be damaged. Tennis is the pre-eminent sport for aspiring professional female athletes worldwide, and it’s damaging to all of them if the governing body of the male half of the sport thinks it’s a good idea to “sex up” tournaments by giving the opening the look and feel of a seedy strip club.
They could also apologize to the eight young male players for dragging them into a controversy they didn’t create (none of whom have said anything publicly about the incident – though they haven’t posted pictures, either). ATP head Chris Kermode intervened when the players were asked for reactions and said, “They were put in an impossible position” – which only makes things worse. They can’t speak for themselves? Is the ATP trying to protect the players from foot-in-mouth disease, or itself from what they might say?
The ATP has a lengthy book of rules and standards that tournaments have to meet, but past editions have not included the admonition, “Do not present women as sex objects,” just as the late columnist and playwright Jean Kerr omitted to tell her sons not to eat the daisies in the centerpiece on the dining room table.
Now, I guess they will.
(SorryWatch asks: Have they distracted conspiracy theorists from the subject of fixing the draw?)