In the chair for the WTA Tour final in Chennai, India Sunday was veteran chair umpire Gianluca Moscarella.
This was the same umpire who was suspended in 2020 because of alleged remarks during a tournament in Florence, Italy where he allegedly called a ball girl “very sexy”, among other things. She reportedly was 16 years old at the time.
Also on court Sunday in the Chennal singles final was Linda Fruhvirtova, who turned 17 in May.
What’s wrong with this picture? The optics, for starters.
“Suitable to chair several events”
It’s not the first time Moscarella has umpired on the WTA Tour since his 10-month suspension in 2020. At the very least, he worked the clay-court WTA tournament in Rabat, Morocco last May.
We reached out to both the WTA and ATP Tours over the weekend to find out why Moscarella was in this situation, given the nature of his reported transgressions.
The gist of it from the WTA was that the Italian gold-badge umpire has served his suspension, and is being given a second chance.
Here’s the statement from the WTA spokesperson.
“Upon completing his suspension for breaching the Code of Conduct for Officials, Mr. Moscarella was again eligible to officiate professional men’s and women’s tennis matches. Based on Mr. Moscarella’s extensive experience officiating at the top levels of the sport, the WTA deemed him suitable to chair several events subject to his continued compliance with the Code of Conduct for Officials.”
As for the ATP Tour, a spokesperson told Open Court that “at this point, the men’s tour has “decided to not utilize Mr. Moscarella’s services.”
Suspended for inappropriate remarks
Moscarella was suspended for 10 months in 2020, after video surfaced of his seemingly inappropriate comments towards a 16-year-old ball girl at a Challenger in Italy the previous September.
In a piece that dug into the world of tennis umpires during Wimbledon, the Guardian’s William Ralston quoted WTA vice-president of officiating Giulia Orlandi as saying “not everything was accurate” in the reporting around Moscarella’s suspension, and that chair umpires who have served their punishment should be given a second chance.
The incident involving Moscarella happened in Sept. 2019, at a small event in Florence, Italy. The comments were made in Italian, of course.
And there was the additional situation of Moscarella appearing to encourage one of the players on court during a set break.
As Mohamed Lahyani learned to his dismay at the US Open, that doesn’t go over well.
BREAKING VIDEO! More about the umpire behaviour in that match. Said to ballgirl ““You are fantastic” “Very sexy” “Are you ok? It’s hot. Do you feel hot? Phisically or emotionally?” Is this acceptable addressed to a young girl even if said “as a joke”?https://t.co/IUHEZ5oySa— Stefano Berlincioni (@Carretero77) September 29, 2019
By early the next year, there were consequences. Or so it seemed.
Update on Italian chair umpire Gianluca Moscarella:— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) January 18, 2020
He has been removed from the ATP’s roster of officials indefinitely, and is still the subject of a disciplinary panel review from tennis governing bodies.
But the ITF deemed that Moscarella’s suspension was to last just 10 months.
And, notably, more than half of that suspension was “served” during the period in 2020 when tennis was completely shut down during the pandemic.
This story from Sept. 2021 in the Italian Tennis magazine reports that Moscarelli filed a complaint against all of tennis’s governing bodies, accusing them of discriminating against him in terms of work assignments, even though he had already served his suspension.
An Italian tennis website reported that Moscarella returned to work at a Davis Cup tie in March 2022. And after that, worked a $25,000 ITF in Santa Margarita di Pula, Italy.
That story states that the on-court comments attributed to him were not, in fact, what he actually said – even if an earlier piece on that website repeatedly characterized those comments as “unacceptable and indefensible.”
Moscarella has not been noticeable in higher-profile matches since the incident and the suspension.
However, on Sunday, with a teenager on court in Chennai, it was very noticeable.
So much potential for conflict
There are elements of this situation that make it even more sensitive on the optics side.
For one thing, there was no Hawkeye. And so, the chair umpire in this situation can have even more of a bearing on the match in terms of overruling and making calls that impact on the outcome of the match.
It didn’t appear that anything untoward occurred. In fact, there was a situation late in the match in which Moscarella called “not up” on a ball Fruhvirtova insisted she had gotten to in time.
But it does seem that ANY other choice of umpire for this match would have been a better one, given the circumstances.
Moscarella is not a full-time WTA Tour umpire; therefore, the organization can contract (or not contract) him for work at its discretion – with the additional context of the complaint for restraint of trade reportedly filed by Moscarella’s legal representatives.
Depending on what your job is in tennis, and what your reported offence might be, the sport seems to offer plenty of second chances – as long as it’s not match-fixing.
Hopefully Moscarella will colour between the lines, going forward.