(EXCLUSIVE) Why LGBTennis Is Much More Than A Pride Celebration - UBITENNIS
Connect with us

Interviews

(EXCLUSIVE) Why LGBTennis Is Much More Than A Pride Celebration

On the surface, tennis appears to be a frontrunner in the representation of gay athletes with the likes of Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova. However, a closer look shows why a series of LGBT events set up by journalist Nick McCarvel are as important as ever.

Avatar

Published

on

Billie Jean King talks to students from Ricards Lodge School and other invites. The Championships 2019. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Day -3 Friday 28/06/2019. Credit: AELTC/Florian Eisele

It can’t be underestimated how much of an impact the world of tennis has had on the history of LGBT sports.

 

Some of the first openly gay athletes were tennis stars who went on to become pioneers of the game. WTA founder Billie Jean King was unfairly outed by a newspaper in 1981 before going on to become a leader in the world of equality. During that same year, Martina Navratilova spoke out about her sexuality for the first time by telling The New York Daily News she was bisexual. The two came out during a time where they risked losing sponsorship deals and that was before the devastating AIDS crisis began, which triggered widespread discrimination against the LGBT community.

In the coming years, there have been many top-level LGBT players on the WTA Tour. Including Amelie Maureasmo, Casey Dellacqua, Conchita Martinez and Alison Van Uytvanck. However, on the men’s side, it is a somewhat different picture. Bill Tilden, who won 10 Grand Slam titles throughout the 1920s, struggled with his sexuaility during a time where gay sex was illegal and not accepted by society. More recently, America’s Brian Vahaly was a former top 100 player during the early 2000s, but chose to come out after retiring from the sport. Clearly there is still much more that could be done.

Fortunately, tennis has its very own driving force helping bring the subject of LGBT issues into the limelight. Nick McCarvel is a renowned journalist who has worked at every Grand Slam in various positions ranging from writing reports to fronting online coverage for their official media channels.

 “Would I like there to have been someone like a Brian Vahaly, who came out after his playing career, to have had come out while he was still pro, or a current, active player who felt empowered enough to do so? Yes, sure. But I don’t feel any impact one way or another.” McCarvel told UbiTennis about growing up with there being no openly gay role model in tennis.
“I think as I got more comfortable with who I am and in my standing as a tennis journalist, I felt driven to get the conversation going perhaps because of a lack of such an out male player.”

LGBTennis

August 22, 2019 – (L-R) Adam Rippon, Brian Vahaly, Greet Minnen, Alison Van Uytvanck, Jason Collins, Billie Jean King, Billy Bean and Nick McCarvel during the US Open Pride Panel at the 2019 US Open. (Photo by Mike Lawrence/USTA)

McCarvel has more than got the ball rolling. A couple years ago, he launched the LBGTennis events where individuals can discuss topics related to the gay community.  The first coincided with the US Open and was held at the Housing Works Bookstore in New York’s SoHo area. Named ‘Open Playbook: Being Queer and Out in Pro Tennis’ he was joined by Vahaly and Dellacqua on the panel,

“In the spring of 2018 I had been thinking about doing something that brought the tennis and queer spaces together, and I finally felt like the time was right to act. I didn’t have any outstanding goal other than to prompt a discussion within the sport that I, a gay journalist, didn’t really see as lively,” he commented about what triggered him create the events.

Since the birth of its inaugural night, the concept of McCarvel’s idea has gone on to take place during Wimbledon and the Australian Open, too, with more top names joining his panels. However, there is, in a sense, a fine balance to organising these evenings.

“I’ve had a rather warm response from the players, but it’s been pretty quiet. We haven’t necessarily encouraged or pushed them to take part. Instead engaging a variety of facets within pro tennis and the recreational game,” McCarvel explains about promoting his concept.
“Two-time major finalist Kevin Anderson attended one of our events ( Australian Open 2019) and was a huge support, and players like Nicole Gibbs have voiced their support online. Former players Billie Jean King, Brian Vahaly, Casey Dellacqua, James Blake and Rennae Stubbs have been speakers at one point or another and current players Alison Van Uytvanck and Greet Minnen were a part of #LGBTennis at the US Open last year.”

To save the prospect of repetition, each of the five events held so far have had a different dynamic whilst raising money for charity. Some of the organisations that have benefited include:  Housing Works and New York Junior Tennis & Learning in USA, Stand Up Events in Australia and Pride Sports in the UK.

McCarvel, undoubtedly, has a lot to be proud about when it comes to the events he has helped organise and run. But what has his standout achievement been so far?

“Having the AELTC invite us onto the grounds of Wimbledon for our event there last summer was amazing; and Billie Jean King was our speaker that day,” he said.
“And having 400+ people attend our event at the USTA National Tennis Center last year on the eve of the US Open was pretty cool, too!”

Everybody has a part

Critics could argue why events like these are needed in 2020. A 2015 worldwide study called ‘Out In The Fields’ found that 8 out of 10 gay men and women have experienced verbal homophobia in sport. To put this into context, a total of 9494 people were surveyed. The report also found that almost half (49%) of gay men and one in four (24%) lesbians under the age of 22 feared that they would be bullied if they came out in team sports.

These findings can only be partly applied to tennis as it is an individual sport but it does highlight the fear some have about coming out, especially on the men’s Tour, which has more than 1000 players with an ATP ranking and none of them are openly gay or bisexual. Ironically, back in 2010, tennis was voted the most gay-friendly sport in a poll ran by British organisation, Stonewall.

“There are so many layers. I think the individuality of the sport and — at times — the loneliness can be impactful in a negative way. The sport can only help to break down these barriers by meeting itself where it’s at and being willing to do the work in making things change,” McCarvel said.
“It’s similar to what we’re seeing — though on a much bigger scale — happen with the Black Lives Matter movement around the world. We need to be open with dialogue, ideas, differences, different people… and tennis has that need to do so with the LGBTQ+ community so it can continue to grow and evolve.”

McCarvel’s commitment to the cause is to be praised but change can’t be created by just one person. It could be argued why the campaign hasn’t attracted more investment or interest from any of tennis’ seven governing bodies over the years. Although that is slowly changing with the US Open hosting its first ever ‘Open Pride’ night last year.

“I think they are getting there. I’ve brought to their attention these issues and I think it’s on their radar. For the #LGBTennis events/evenings, I’ve worked with Tennis Australia (TA), the USTA, the All England Club, the WTA and — to a lesser degree, the ATP, ITA, Tennis Canada and LTA,” he said.
“Where is their player education series? How are they making tennis as inclusive for every recreational player out there no matter where they come from or who they are? TA has done a great job with the latter, but am I frustrated? No. I just want to see progress.”

Then there is also the power of support from straight-allies in the sport, especially among active players. It isn’t very often that gay-related questions are asked to the likes of Roger Federer and Co, but when they have, there has always been a positive response. 20-time Grand Slam champion Federer told The Body Serve in 2018 ‘It doesn’t matter where you came from, who you are, I’m all for it that you’re open about it (being gay).’ Later that same year Novak Djokovic says during the ATP Tour Finals: “It’s everybody’s right to have sexual orientation as they desire, any kind of direction in life they desire. I respect it.”

“When Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic were asked about the issue in the press in the summer of 2018 it made international headlines when they spoke out on the issue. I know not a lot of LGBTQ+ activists feel as though we need to rely on or promote allies, but in sports, I think they’re big because of how heternormative the culture is.”

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect is that tennis, in some ways, has been a leader when it comes to representation of LGBT people in sport but at the same time still has a lot of work to do in many other ways. It is for this reason why McCarvel’s LGBTennis events have been inspirational.

I have no idea if there are any gay professional tennis players currently on the ATP Tour or if they will come out soon. The only hope is they can seek some sort of comfort from what McCarvel is doing as he issues his own coming out advice.

“There is some conservative thinking in the sport – and that’s fine – but the more you can be your authentic self on the court, in the locker room, in the press room, in the hallways of the Grand Slam arenas around the world – that is all very, abundantly important. And support one another! Tennis is wonderfully gay. This sport touches the queer community like no other! Let’s highlight that. Let’s embrace it and do our (small little) part,” he concluded.

Interviews

EXCLUSIVE: Sasa Ozmo On How Serbia Has Reacted To Djokovic’s Visa Fiasco

UbiTennis looks into how the European nation has reacted to the decision by Australia to refuse Novak Djokovic a visa with the help of one of the country’s most well known tennis journalists.

Avatar

Published

on

Those who have ever looked into how to get accurate information about world No.1 Novak Djokovic would have come across Sasa Ozmo.

 

Based in Belgrade, Ozmo has professionally covered tennis for more than a decade and is a journalist for Sport Klub. He has spoken to Djokovic on multiple occasions, whether that is through press conferences or in one-to-one interviews. He has also written a book called “Sports Journalism”, which aims to help young students/journalists in the profession. During the ATP Finals last November he presented Djokovic with a copy of his book as a token of his gratitude for his role in helping him achieve his childhood dreams.

In recent days Ozmo’s name has gone around the world following the controversial decision to refuse Djokovic entry into Australia. He has either conducted interviews or written columns with Sky News, BBC Radio 5 live, Diario AS (Spain), ABC Radio Australia and The Daily Mail within the past week.

The 20-time Grand Slam champion is currently residing at the Park Hotel which is a quarantine facility in Melbourne. According to legal files submitted by Djokovic’s defence team, they say the tennis star was granted a medical exemption to play the Australian Open and had assurances that he could enter the country. The exemption is that he had Covid-19 within the past six months (he took a PCR test on December 16th) and therefore couldn’t receive a vaccination. However, Federal authorities are arguing that being unvaccinated isn’t a legitimate reason to enter the country and denies giving such assurances.

Djokovic’s Australian Open dreams now hang on the outcome of a court hearing which will take place on Monday. In the meantime, there is anger in his home country with protests taking place and political figures have thrown their support behind him. But what it is the situation really like in Serbia through the eyes of somebody who is experiencing it minute-by-minute?

Ozmo has been in Belgrade where he has witnessed the fiasco unfold. In an interview with UbiTennis he discusses how Serbians are reacting, if there is a fear of a surge in anti-Western views and the possibility that Djokovic might have attended some events after testing positive for COVID-19.

UBITENNIS: It has been four days since the news of Djokovic’s visa refusal broke. How has the reaction been to this in Serbia?

OZMO: Serbian society has reacted with a mixture of disappointment and anger. I think many of Novak’s fans, not only in Serbia, but millions around the world made their peace that Novak might not play the Australian Open this year. Then that exemption came and that got their hopes up. Only for things to go south very quickly.

I think people are mostly outraged by the way he was treated. Just imagine a different situation. If it was an Australian citizen in Serbia treated like this no matter the circumstances, what would the Australian media write and how would the western society react?

For eight hours he was promised rest (whilst in detention at the airport) but he was woken up after two hours. Almost being forced to sign that cancellation (of his visa). He was without his phone for three hours and then in the detention centre. People call it a hotel but it is a euphemism, it’s not a hotel.

It’s normal that people are outraged about it. Especially considering that he is the greatest tennis player their country has ever produced.

UBITENNIS: In the past, there has been various comments from the Serbian press that Novak is treated unfairly due to where he comes from. Now this has happened, is there a concern that there could be a rise in anti-western views in the country which far-right groups might capitalise on?

OZMO: I wouldn’t go that far as to make this so much political. This will eventually blow over and I personally can’t wait to go back and talk tennis. As far as the far right groups and political parties here go, I am glad that unlike many of the European countries there is no far far-right that has so many members in politics like in countries such as France. I don’t think this (Djokovic’s situation) will increase the level of anti-western sentiment (in Serbia) any more than it currently is.

UBITENNIS: In his legal files submitted to the Melbourne Court, Djokovic took a PCR test on December 16th. The following day and on the 18th he is reported to have participated in events or photo shoots. If it is proven that he did attend those events knowing he was positive, what would the reaction be?

OZMO: Novak is not obligated to share anything from his medical files and his brother said that he will never do that. I think it is in his best interest when it comes to his reputation is to clear this up. What was actually the timeline? When did he test positive?
They (Djokovic’s team) won’t speak up until the trial is adjourned but after that I can only assume that some explanation will be given.

UBITENNIS: It appears that Novak isn’t vaccinated and he has his views on this. Whilst some in the western world might be taken back by this stance, there may be a different perspective on this issue in Serbia. Do you think these cultural differences are playing a factor in the fallout?

OZMO: From what I can tell watching the news, this vaccine has had society polarised all over the world. There have been anti-vaccine protests almost all over the world. It is true that the vaccine rate isn’t as high as we hoped for Serbia. It’s about 50 percent but I don’t think it’s cultural differences. Sometimes when the Western world writes about Serbia they don’t understand the atmosphere in the society or the ambiance everything is happening in. For example, the Adria Tour. It looked scandalous from abroad but here simultaneously Serbia had a football match with 30,000/40,000 spectators. The measures were really lost back then. Sometimes people from the West can’t see what’s actually going on in Serbia.

UBITENNIS: Novak is regarded as one of the most mentally strongest players on the men’s Tour. How easy do you think it will be for him to recover from this?

OZMO: I don’t think this will have any negative long-term effect. Of course now he’s pi**ed and emotional. But in the long run, you know, he hasn’t always been a millionaire with a world No.1 in tennis. Once he was a kid and he didn’t have the easiest of childhoods in Serbia with the bombing, poverty and general atmosphere in society. He will be ok, as you said he’s one of the strongest athletes mentally ever.

Sasa Ozmo can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ozmo_sasa

Continue Reading

Interviews

EXCLUSIVE: Ian Pearson-Brown Survived His Demons, Now He’s a Driving Force In Making Tennis Inclusive

The tennis coach once struggled with his mental health whilst trying to hide his sexuality. Now he wants to prevent others from going through the same experience.

Avatar

Published

on

When he was younger Ian Pearson-Brown didn’t want to be gay, he didn’t want anybody to know he was gay and he even attempted suicide as a result of suppressing his sexuality.

 

Like many in England, he grew up surrounded by sport and was obsessed with it. In school Physical Education was his favourite subject, he had an affection for playing racket sports and football with his friends. Growing up during the 1980s and 1990s there were few openly LGBT athletes, especially in male sports. During this time tennis had Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova, who were both open about their sexuality.

However, this was no consultation for a boy like Pearson whose only idol was that of Justin Fashanu. The first back footballer to command a £1M transfer fee came out in 1990 but was subjected to harsh media scrutiny. During that period, there were also many misconceptions about AIDS and the LGBT community with one club requesting that Fashanu take an HIV test as part of his medical.

“When I was 13 and realized I was gay everything changed. PE became a lesson filled with anxiety. Male sport in that era was not the most welcoming of environments for anyone who was LGBTQ+ as Justin Fashanu would testify so I felt I had to choose between being into sport or being gay,” Pearson tells UbiTennis.

So which path did he initially choose? Sport was the route he went down and he has managed to form a successful tennis career. He has worked as a coach for more than 20 years and has been recognized for his work. In 2021 the former Newcastle University graduate was named Durham and Cleveland Tennis Development Coach of the Year.

Getting to the position Pearson is now has been hard work, both physically and mentally. Embarking upon working in tennis he concealed his sexuality for a long time in fear of the possible repercussions he may face from both his colleagues and those who he was coaching if he came out. Keeping a huge part of his life secret and the fear of being outed by others took its toll on him.

“I chose to deny my sexuality and live a lie until I was nearly 30,” he explains. “In that time I became a full-time tennis coach working in the North East. My own internal barriers and prejudices combined with a lack of role models in men’s sport led me to believe I couldn’t exist as my authentic self in Tennis.’
“I went through years of depression and anxiety. I attempted to take my own life. I was constantly worried if I was outed that parents wouldn’t bring their kids back to my sessions and my tennis mates would stop speaking to me.”

Pride in Tennis

At the age of 30, Pearson decided enough was enough and started working in tennis as an out gay man. He was encouraged to do so by his partner who is now his husband. The reception he received exceeded expectations and also for him sparked a revelation.

“I began to realise that Tennis does not have to be an intimidating environment for LGBTQ+ people if the subject is talked about openly. So I have spent the last 10 years putting time aside to try and change the culture in our sport.”

Pearson is the founder of Pride in Tennis. A network supporting all British-based LGBTQI+ tennis players, coaches, officials and fans which have been endorsed by the LTA. The initiative came about following an open letter issued by CEO Scott Lloyd asking how tennis can be more diverse. Spotting an opportunity he and a group of volunteers from around the UK has paired up with LTA to create Pride in Tennis which aims to promote, support and educate those about tennis opportunities for the LGBT community.

“Our vision is to make tennis in Britain an environment which is safe and inclusive for all LGBT+ players, coaches, officials and fans to be able to exist as their authentic selves with confidence and without prejudice.”

In February there will be an official launch for the network at the Roehampton Tennis Centre. The training base for many British players during the offseason and throughout the year. Covid-permitting, the event is set to feature keynote speakers, breakout feedback sessions, on-court tennis coaching and even a tennis competition.

Getting to this stage hasn’t been easy. It was less than two years ago Pearson spoke about his frustration of trying to generate enough interest from tennis officials concerning the LGBT community. In June 2020 he told Pride Of The Terraces ‘Whenever I suggest things that other sports are doing to promote visibility and inclusion, I get told ‘we don’t need to do that’, or ‘you don’t want to do that because it’s divisive.’

So what has changed since then?

“In a short space of time the governing body’s perspective has gone from ‘not recognizing the problem’ to wanting to actively challenge the barriers, stigmas and stereotypes that prevent LGBTQ+ people from playing sport,” he explains. “In terms of the general tennis playing population in the clubs and parks around the UK the culture will take time to change but we have plans to put resources and tools in place to help. We have already delivered training accessible to all LTA licensed coaches.”

Working with Newcastle United

Tennis isn’t the only sport where Pearson is fighting to break down the barriers. He is the co-chair of United with Pride, a Newcastle United LGBT+ supporters group that has an official partnership with the Premier League Club. He is also an ambassador for Newcastle’s United As One which encapsulates the club’s work in the fields of diversity, inclusion and welfare.

“In football where there is a more immediate need to tackle homophobic attitudes and behaviours. I have had to learn a great deal of patience when trying to change cultures entrenched in historic misogyny, racism and intolerance,” he explains when comparing tennis to football.
“I have had to learn to have a thick skin when faced with regular online targeted abuse. I have learned that you can’t just preach to the already converted allies but also to those who you may not see eye to eye with and engage with them in the hope of changing their views.”

Pearson has previously spoken on the BBC’s LGBT Sport Podcast about his work and to various other media outlets. Even more so in recent months following the takeover of Newcastle United by a group led by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. In Saudi Arabia there are no laws regarding sexual orientation and LGBT people can be imprisoned.

Now the goal is to incorporate what he has learned from the world of football into the newly formed Pride in Tennis. Recently the ATP conducted a survey on the men’s Tour concerning attitudes towards the LGBT community. The governing body contacted Lou Englefield, who is the director of Pride Sports, a UK organisation that focuses on LGBTQ+phobia in sport and aims to improve access to sport for all LGBTQ+ people. Through their connection, they linked up with Eric Denison, a behavioural science researcher at Monash University’s School of Social Sciences.

“I was delighted to see that at both the Australian and US open’s there has been some dialogue and visibility work conducted by the ATP and WTA,” Pearson commented on the effort being made by tennis’ governing bodies.
“I would say they have come a long way since their official Twitter account unwittingly shared a TikTok containing homophobic slurs and stereotypes. Then taking a full 24hrs to release an apology.’
“However, it is a small step on a long journey to get to the point where the tour is safe for an LGBTQ+ male player, particularly with so many events being held in countries where it is illegal or socially unacceptable to be gay.”

Focus on the foundation of tennis

Pearson’s own personal difficulty in coming out as gay whilst working in sport is not an isolated incident, even though times are changing for the good. The Trevor Project is a nonprofit organisation focus on suicide prevention among LGBT youth in America. Their National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health in 2021 found that more than two thirds (68%) of respondents didn’t play sport for a school or community league or club. Among the 34,000 respondents a number said one of the reasons why they don’t want to play sports is linked to ‘discrimination or fear of LGBTQ-based discrimination.’

On the other hand, a study called Out In Sports extensively looked into the levels of acceptance athletes in the North American sports system receive when they came out to their peers. The comprehensive study was conducted by leading LGBT sports website Outsports, the University of Winchester and the Sports Equality Foundation. The study analysed responses of 370 athletes who were out to high school teammates, and 630 athletes out to college teammates from America and Canada. More than 95% said their teammates’ responses to them coming out were overall “neutral” to “perfect.” In tennis specifically, 89% said they received a positive response when they came out with the other 11% saying they received a ‘neutral’ response.

“My barriers were internal and went unchallenged by role models such as family members, teachers and coaches. Changes in relationships education and a zero-tolerance approach to homophobic, biphobic and transphobic behaviour in the PE environment will go a long way to help with this,” Pearson commented.
“In the absence of professional role models, (the women’s game may have some LGBTQ+ pioneers but they are still an underrepresented minority), we have to create allies at a grassroots level. Coaches wearing rainbow laces, and venues celebrating pride month.”

It is hoped that Pride in Tennis will be the frontrunner in driving this change in the UK. Their launch at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton is set to take place on February 13th.

Continue Reading

Interviews

“We Hope to Convince Federer to Play”: the Presentation of the 2022 Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters

Director Zeljko Franulovic talked about next year’s tournament, scheduled from April 9-17

Avatar

Published

on

Stefanos Tsitsipas - ATP Montecarlo 2021 (ph. Agence Carte Blanche / Réalis)

The 2022 Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters will take place from April 9-17, so it’s difficult to guess what the pandemic situation will be in six months. At the moment, however, the prevalent hypothesis is that all spectators will need a Covid Pass or to bring proof of a negative test before being allowed in the Montecarlo Country Club at Roquebrune, France. If some players will refuse the vaccine, then they will need to be tested regularly in accordance to the rules devised by the French government.

 

Other than that, there will be no surprises when it comes to the event’s logistics, since the Country Club has already added a new players lounge and a new press room in the past few years. In 2020 the tournament was cancelled, while in 2021 it took place behind closed doors (while still being televised in 113 countries); the last edition staged with a crowd, in 2019, sold 130,000 tickets, constituting 30% of the total revenue – another 30% came from the sponsors, 30% from media rights (a number that tournament director Zeljko Franulovic hopes to see increase) and 10% from merchandising.

While it’s early days to know whether the tournament will operate at full capacity, Franulovic has made it clear that the organisers are already planning to provide a better covering for the No.2 Court, whose roof has not been at all effective in the past in the event of rain.

The tournament’s tickets can be bought on the official website of the event, but Franulovic has already vowed to reimburse immediately every ticket “if the government and the health authorities should decide to reduce the tournament’s capacity.”

Ticket prices have increased by 2 to 3 percent as compared to 2019, ranging from £25-50 for the qualifiers weekend, £32-75 for the opening rounds, £…-130 for the quarterfinals and semifinals, £65-150 for the final, £360-1250 for a nine-day tickets. Franulovic claims that the prices are in line with those of the other Masters 1000 tournaments.

Finally, Franulovic supports Andrea Gaudenzi’s decision to create a fixed prize money for the next decade. While tournaments like Madrid and Rome are trying to increase their duration from 8 to 12 days, the Monte-Carlo director has claimed that he prefers to remain a week-long event, especially because his is not a combined tournament. As for the players who will feature, Franulovic hopes to convince Roger Federer to participate: “I’m certain that he will give everything he has to be able to stage another comeback on the tour, ma no one knows where he’ll play. However, I think that on the clay he should opt for best-of-three events like Monte-Carlo and Rome rather than the French Open.”

For this and more information, you can watch the video above.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Trending