Professional sports must be a beacon when stars grab headlines for the wrong reasons | sport

So a lot for the good times. The show will go on for Nick Kyrgios at Wimbledon, starting Wednesday with a quarter-final against Cristian Garin, the first of three hypothetical steps towards a long-winded maiden Grand Slam victory. But for now, the party, the bunting, the King Nick buzz, is over.

Sport likes to tell these stories. Over the past 10 days, Kyrgios had seemed to become one of the main objects of fascination in the English summer, a brilliant and charismatic tennis player; albeit a brilliant and charismatic tennis player with obvious deference issues, clothing issues, politeness issues, stifled talent issues and, just plain, trouble.

Kyrgios is still all of those things, despite overnight news from Australia that he has been summoned to a Canberra court to face a charge of assaulting an ex-girlfriend. According to the Canberra Times, the summons ‘relates to an allegation that Kyrgios nabbed former partner Chiara Passari’ in December last year.

Kyrgios is, like everyone else, innocent of all charges until a court rules otherwise. The case, if there is to be one, will remain pending until that time. Whatever the court of instant public opinion decides, the only certainty right now is that this is a deeply sad situation for everyone involved.

Sport melts in the face of these problems. There has been a global increase in reported cases of domestic violence since the start of the Covid pandemic. Domestic violence accounted for 18% of all police-recorded offenses in England and Wales in the year ending March 2021. Those working in this area suggest that encouraging those who may be victimized to manifesting is a persistent problem. For this reason alone, it is essential to move forward with caution, to have a way of talking about these issues, to remove the heat, the pressure from a deadly and delicate process.

At this point, it’s hard to avoid the feeling of coming full circle; to conclude that, like it or not, this is a problem that professional sport has to deal with. Sporting bodies, broadcasters, athletes and their agents all talk about creating images. There are millions to be raised by the likes of the All England Club and the ATP selling this iconography, riding the tides of fandom and sports stardom. No one here just holds a tennis tournament or adds up the ranking ladder.

At this point, it becomes necessary to ask the obvious question: how does professional tennis intend to approach such questions, which will attach to the human product, like it or not? What’s the plan here, the protocol, the politics? Is there even a desire to have one?

The ATP already has a failing record here. It’s essentially a trading body, a shared marketplace for sole traders in male professional tennis, turning the cogs and splitting the pie. The ATP is not a social protection organization, nor a regulator of the public good. The Premier League, the Football Association, the Rugby Football Union, the England and Wales Cricket Board: all have a more explicit role of governance and discipline, a sense of being tied, however remotely, to making sure everything goes well.

Alexander Zverev has denied allegations of abuse and violence against his ex-girlfriend Olga Sharypova. Photography: Marco Bertorello/AFP/Getty Images

While the ATP has shown no real will to tackle these issues. In December 2020, Olga Sharypova, Alexander Zverev’s ex-girlfriend, made serious allegations of abuse and violence in an interview with Racquet Magazine. Sharypova claimed that Zverev punched her in the face and grabbed her by the throat. At one point, she says, she attempted suicide by injecting herself with insulin.

Zverev denies all the allegations. But in the months that followed, those details simply floated around tennis, free of any kind of formal process or guidance. At the Paris Masters in 2020, Zverev was able to tell the television cameras: “I know there are going to be a lot of people trying to wipe a smile off my face right now but under this mask I am smiling brightly. ” Class man. Later that year, he read a statement on his phone during an ATP Finals press conference (uh, really?) stating that it’s “not who I am, not how I am. was raised by my parents”.

The ATP eventually promised to formulate a policy to deal with allegations of abuse. He also launched an investigation into Sharypova’s comments. To date nothing has happened. The update is: there are no updates.

But then, that’s been the way of these things. In May 2020, Nikoloz Basilashvili was arrested for an alleged assault on his ex-wife. Basilashvili is also innocent until convicted, with his case still pending. But professional tennis has offered nothing, no principle, no way to deal with this kind of situation. As of 6 p.m. Tuesday night, no one at the ATP had made a statement on the news from Australia.

The All England Club made a statement of sorts on Tuesday night, acknowledging they had heard the news from Canberra and that Kyrgios were due to play a quarter-final. All this is, without a doubt, good to know.

The reality is that big sport has a duty to regulate its commercial theatre; at the very least to establish a procedure, a set of guidelines, the feeling that he takes this seriously. Does tennis have a problem here? It can be a totally brutal environment for these touring freelancers, an endless reel of hotel life, and constant scrutiny. There are plenty of pros and ex-pros who have sometimes seemed ousted by this existence, ghosts in the machine.

There is no mitigation here, no excuse for abusive behavior. But it’s worth remembering that the lives of these captive specimens, who were taught from an early age to believe in their own stardust, can be a deeply strange place. Whichever direction the Kyrgios case takes, it appears to be an act of negligence as those governing professional tennis still seem ill-equipped to handle the fallout and care for those caught within its radius.

This article was last modified on July 13, 2022. Alexander Zverev made his comments about people “trying to wipe a smile off my face” at the Paris Masters in 2020, not at Roland-Garros last year as one put it. previous version.

Sara R. Cicero