If sport were a logical and united business, it would have opened its own investigation by now
Some players have spoken out in favor of Zverev’s former girlfriend Olga Sharypova. But aside from Nicole Gibbs and Daria Gavrilova – the Russian who turned Australian and said, « I think a woman has to be believed » – the sport has done its best to hide Sharypova’s powerful allegations.
Sharypova’s claims are unproven and likely will remain unless she takes legal action. However, if tennis had been a logical and related business, it would have opened its own investigation by now. This would happen in American sports leagues like the NBA, where anyone charged with domestic violence is suspended pending an investigation for full pay.
Tennis as a sport has enough resources to do the same. Unfortunately, these resources are thin and unevenly distributed among nine different stakeholders.
In any rational world, the Association of Tennis Professionals could use the services of the Tennis Integrity Unit and the 16 investigators – mostly ex-police officers and women – who work there. However, in our chaotic reality, the TIU is part of another silo that focuses on betting fraud and primarily responds to the International Tennis Federation. The ATP does not have its own investigators.
Zverev ended his season on Friday with a loss to Novak Djokovic. He has narrowly denied all allegations – that’s his right. But if there are no dramatic developments, the same debate will be repeated at the Australian Open (Covid-19 allowed) in January.
Reporters will raise the issue again at Zverev, knowing that his answer likely hasn’t changed but it is inappropriate to put such serious matters aside. He will again deny the charges. And the same miserable, smelly feeling will follow his progress through the tournament.
Even if Zverev is completely innocent, the unsolved nature of the case brings the game into disrepute. Because of this, authorities should try to get more information about Sharypova’s allegations. Do you remember the panic sparked in the tennis world by the 2016 BBC / Buzzfeed investigation into match-fixing? In response, the then managing director of ATP, Chris Kermode, dragged his tennis bigwigs to a press conference in a room in Melbourne Park.
Admittedly, the result was less than satisfactory: an independent review panel that spent perhaps £ 25million making a 115-page statement of the obvious. But at least tennis showed that it was important to him to defend his integrity against match manipulators. Now it has to show that it also deals with domestic violence.
There are technical challenges here as tennis players are sole proprietors. Unlike team athletes, they do not sign employment contracts or collective agreements that can be used for disciplinary purposes in the event of violations.
However, the gravity of these allegations requires at least the formulation of an official policy against domestic abuse. And the TIU, which will expand in a year’s time to take on anti-doping roles, should also be mobilized as a potential arbitrator in potential cases where no civil or criminal charges have been brought.
Doping, match fixing and abuse: these are the three riders of modern sport. They might as well be brought under one roof.
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Alexander Zverev, Novak Djokovic, Tennis, Association of Tennis Professionals, Reuters, ATP Tour
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