September 28, 2021

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ATP announces action plan to safeguard against abuse

Zverev

The ATP Tour announced on Saturday a plan to undertake a comprehensive review of its “safeguarding” policies, part of what it says is a commitment to “ensure all adults and minors involved in professional tennis are safe and protected from abuse.”

An independent report is currently being “compiled by a team of expert consultants”

(Why release this on a Saturday? Excellent question).

But it seems fairly clear, reading between the lines, that it is a long-awaited response, of a sort, against the ATP Tour’s perceived inaction in the case of the allegations made against top player Alexander Zverev by ex-girlfriend Olga Sharypova.

Especially as “domestic abuse” is explicitly mentioned.

Those were made on her social media and also detailed in a story in Racquet Magazine, more than nine months ago.

Later Saturday, Zverev will play Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Cincinnati semifinal – a match between two players expected to be the face of the Tour in years to come, after the Big 3 era.

Tsitsipas has gotten a fair bit of attention this week as well, for. his stance on the coronavirus vaccine.

So it’s fun times.

“We recognize we have a responsibility to be doing more”

“To date, ATP has typically deferred to legal authorities in cases of abuse before determining if further internal action is warranted under the ATP Code of Conduct. The report is expected to set out a number of recommendations to elevate safeguarding across the organization and identify opportunities for more proactive involvement. Following its completion, ATP will evaluate its recommendations and possible next steps across a range of safeguarding matters, including those pertaining to domestic violence.”

ATP CEO Massimo Calvalli said in the statement that “everyone in tennis should feel protected, fairly represented, and supported in raising concerns. When abusive conduct or allegations are related to any member of the tennis family it can also impact the public’s trust in our sport. We recognize that we have a responsibility to be doing more.

At the same time, there are … a number of caveats related to what, exactly, they CAN do.

“This represents new ground for us, and the seriousness and complexity of these issues will require us to proceed with care. We have to be sure that any policies are practical and enforceable across our sport, which operates in more than 30 different legal jurisdictions and where players compete as independent contractors. Collaboration with the WTA, ITF and the four Grand Slams will also be important in order to serve the wider tennis community,” Calvalli said.

The notion of collaboration between all the stakeholders, as well, is a lovely theory.

From talk to concrete action

What this all means, is certainly rather hazy.

Although it certainly seems, at the very least, directly related to the well-publicized Zverev situation.

As well, top player Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia has been involved in a long-running court case involving accusations of domestic abuse towards his ex-wife.

The reaction from the ATP Tour, at the time the Racquet story was published, was certainly considered a weak response at the time – and not exactly prompt.

And, even if pandemic time does fly, that response was … nine months ago already.

Not to denigrate the effort. But until this report is tabled, and there’s some indication of exactly WHAT the ATP can and will do in this area, it’s just a press release sent out on a Saturday.

But this announcement begs the question: what are its current safeguarding policies?

Also – how far does the net extend in terms of being “involved in professional tennis?”

Does it seek to regulate the relationship between parents and their children? Do significant others and spouses fall under that umbrella (again, see the much-discussed Zverev situation).

The WTA instituted initiatives back in 2008

You’d think the WTA, with so many younger players and so many more visible instances of abuse of its players by coaches and parents, would be more front and centre on this.

Of course, they’re not really front and centre on much.

But back in 2008, the Tour did institute a plan to do criminal and background checks on player’s entourages.

According to a story written at the time, it met with significant pushback from said entourages, who were apparently more concerned that the Tour would look into their taxes than anything else.

“The WTA security rules met initial opposition and many members of players’ entourages refused to sign the new agreement to allow personal background checks,” a story from the Australian network ABC stated at the time.

“Two weeks ago when the rules were introduced in Doha, players had to carry food out to coaches and friends who had been refused entry to the players’ area.”

Security Task Force

At the time, the WTA also introduced a counseling service to help players on the road, and expanded the Tour’s Code of Conduct to extend the net to entourages, agents and parents.

At the time, the WTA also set up a “player security task force”.

Some 13 years later, given the abuse the players are now receiving in the since-emerged social media landscape, with the proliferation of gambling on the sport, the notion seems quaint.