by The Spin Team
I tried my best not to post anything about the return of Maria Sharapova to the WTA Tour. However, as I follow tennis fans and reporters on social media (interchangeable, I know), I cannot help but feel compelled to offer my own thoughts. I wanted to explore the evolution of my feeling through Sharapova’s press conference about her doping violation, ITF hearing, WADA hearing, and subsequent “victory” tour, after having her 2-year ban reduced to 15 months.
I have surveyed all sides taken on Sharapova by listening to podcasts and reading a range of articles. Unfortunately, I believe she should not receive wildcards into any tournament, nor should she be given any preferential treatment upon her return.
The rules as written by the WTA provide for tournaments to afford wildcards to players. The fact that Stuttgart chose to give a wildcard to a player returning from a doping suspension is a slap in the face of other players. Some players from the host country deserved a wildcard to aid their ranking and to defer the financial costs of competing. Sharapova, a multi-millionaire, did not and does not need a wildcard. The granting of the wildcard demonstrates that Sharapova still requires a leg up in order to compete, much as she did when she used a prohibited substance to gain an advantage over her opponents.
Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome have all offered wildcards to Sharapova to compete in their tournaments. As of the time of writing this article, the FFT is set to announce whether they will be providing a wildcard to Sharapova to play the main draw of the French Open and the AELTC to play Wimbledon.
THE “VICTIM” VICTORY TOUR
One of the things that Sharapova has done since WADA reduced her anti-doping ban is go on a “victory” tour where she posited the view that she was a victim of the cruelty of the ITF. She suggested that she was on the receiving end of a witch-hunt because of jealousy from her peers and her wealth. It was a slap in the face to the ITF and the WTA.
THE WHITEWASHING OF A DOPING BAN
This week, the Tennis Channel took the opportunity to encourage fans to purchase subscription to TC Plus by advertising the ‘Best of Sharapova’. In addition, they are also showcasing her Grand Slam wins. There have been numerous articles written by so-called journalists espousing the greatness of Sharapova. The WTA, never to be left behind, has opined that her return to the Tour is good for tennis.
Lest folks forget, this is the same Sharapova who never took a position on anything unless it benefited her brand. She is the Ivanka Trump of tennis. When Russia was being accused of discrimination against the LGBTQ community, Sharapova remained silent, held her Russian flag high and proudly represented Russia at the Winter Olympics in Sochi. When issues relating to equal pay were being dealt with, she recused herself from the conversation, except when it suited her to take credit. Who can forget her stance of not participating in WTA promotional events because it conflicted with her practice schedule?
The WTA has done a disservice to the women who fought long and hard to be seen as equals with their male counterparts. From the battle to have the Tour recognized, to getting sponsors in the early years, to even going so far as to pay the women who compete on the Tour a salary, the WTA has a long history of being in the forefront of representing women in sport, and indeed, women everywhere. It was therefore an embarrassment to have someone of the caliber of Billie Jean King embrace Sharapova during her doping ban, as if what she had done was not egregious.
Even worse, for whatever reason, and surely for publicity purposes only, Sharapova participated in an exhibition event with the current Olympic gold medalist, Monica Puig during the time that she was serving her ban. The Olympics, for better or worse, are about clean athletes competing against each other. The fact that the whole Russian Federation was banned from competing in the 2016 Olympics made the exhibition match between Puig and Sharapova all the more distasteful.
Moreover, Sharapova’s agent, Max Eisenbud, the man who was going through a divorce and therefore neglected to read the list of banned items from WADA and hence forgot to inform his client decided to cast aspersions on perennial top 10 players, Caroline Wozniacki and Aga Radwanska by calling them journeymen. The last time I looked, I didn’t see WTA ask Mr. Eisenbud to apologize to either woman for his comments.
I am sure that Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome are all agog over the money that they will be making once Sharapova steps on the court. There is no doubt that there will be fans in the stands to cheer her on. That is the way of life and the power of money, but just for a moment, I would have hoped that in the same way that Wayne Odesnik, Barbora Strycova, and Martina Hingis were made to earn their way back to the game, Sharapova would have been asked to earn her right to be called a star in the sport of tennis.
Ilie Nastase said some things during Fed Cup to Jo Konta. He also said some things about Serena’s unborn child. I will not repeat what he said, however, for just a moment I really want to call out the hypocrisy of tennis.
A few years ago a former player turned pro and a Hall of Famer was accused of rape. One of his victims filed a lawsuit accusing him of raping her while she was in his charge. The case meandered through the courts and if it was not for a certain journalist, many of us would not have known about it.
There were calls for his removal from the Hall of Fame and it was only after a petition was circulated and pressure was made to bear on the Tennis Hall of Fame that he was removed. During this time, many of the players, who are now retired, remained silent. Once he was removed and the charge against him was proved, those who knew of his behaviour decided to speak out. What made them wait so long? Why did no one speak out when these young women were being assaulted? It is the same question I have of Ilie Nastase.
Pam Shriver stated that he once asked her if she was a virgin. Every year during Wimbledon or any of the Majors, there is Ilie Nastase sitting in the Royal Box or the executive suites. The camera focuses on him and we are told about his legacy and his fiery personality. We are also regaled with stories of his volatile behaviour, which apparently made for great tennis commentary. It was only after he abused a player publicly and tennis fans spoke out against it that all of a sudden Nastase is a pariah in tennis.
Why must we wait until we have a victim before we start ostracizing those in the tennis world, legends or not, who consistently abuse their positions? Tennis is a sport that I truly love, but I wish we didn’t adopt the Omerta code (code of silence) when it comes to opening the doors to the deep, dark and nasty secrets that go on behind its closed doors.