French world No.35 Benoit Paire will not be allowed to play in the Olympic Games this year following an investigation conducted by the French Tennis Federation (FFT).
The national body has deemed the former top 20 player ineligible for the Olympic qualification criteria following a series of incidents he has been involved in this season. A vocal critic of the Tour restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Paire has described the situation as ‘sad, boring and ridiculous.’ Openly admitting that he wants to get outside of staying in a ‘Tour bubble’ as quickly as possible. At the Argentina Open he was accused of tanking during one of his matches which he also spat on the court following an argument over a line call.
The behaviour of the Frenchman has prompted concern from the FFT who looked into the case. Paire has since written a letter to his national federation apologising for the incidents however he continues to be caught up in controversy. At last week’s Monte Carlo Masters he said he didn’t care about losing to Jordan Thompson in the first round and described playing without fans watching like a ‘cemetery.’
“Honestly I don’t give a sh*t about this match,” he told reporters.
“Playing in a cemetery like this, it’s just not possible anymore. All the players think it. I am perhaps the only one to say it.
“Tennis is no longer bringing me anything good. I’ve got no more spark.”
It was the Monte Carlo incident which proved to be the last straw and triggered action from the Federation with the proposal being backed by Nicolas Escudé and Davis Cup captain Sébastien Grosjean. In a statement the FFT confirmed their decision was prompted by Paire’s ‘inappropriate, unsportsmanlike and repetitive behaviours.’
“In terms of responsibility, for our sport and for France, on the proposal of the DTN (Direction Technique Nationale) and in consultation with Sébastien Grosjean, the Comex has decided to exclude Benoît Paire from the future list of players who will represent the FFT and France this summer in Tokyo,” FFT President Gilles Moretton said in a statement.
“His behaviour deeply moved since the beginning of the year seriously undermines the values of sport, like tennis and are totally incompatible with the Olympic spirit. I repeat, it is the duty of each player and of each high-level player must respect the values of our sport and it is up to them to be exemplary on and off the court, in particular vis-à-vis the young people of our country.”
Officials confirmed that they will provide support to Paire if he would like to receive any. Although they didn’t elaborate on what that could entail.
Paire played in the 2016 Olympics where he lost in the second round to Fabio Fognini. Although he was later issued with a provisional suspension for ‘damaging’ the image of the FFT after being booted off the French team for “flouting the rules.”
The 31-year-old is France’s fourth highest ranked player on the ATP Tour. Ahead of him is Adrian Mannarino (No.34), Ugo Humbert (No.31) and Gael Monfils (No.15).
Tennis Stars Voice Concerns Over Staging Tokyo Olympics
After being delayed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, top players such as Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori still have reservations.
Japan’s top male tennis player Kei Nishikori has questioned how much preparation the IOC and local officials in his home country has prepared for a ‘worst-case’ scenario of hosting the Olympics.
The four-year event has already been postponed by 12 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic and some have called for the sporting extravaganza to be scrapped. Recently governors of nine Japanese prefectures said there should be an option to suspend or even cancel the Olympics altogether if cases in the region can’t be kept under control. Three of those governors are in charge of cities set to stage Olympic events.
Weighing in on the debate, former US Open finalist Nishikori raises doubts over how organisers plan to hold a safe event given the high number of athletes that will be present, which is an estimated 11,000. Japan has already said that overseas fans are banned and international athletes will not be able to bring relatives with them to minimise the risk.
“I don’t know what they are thinking, and I don’t know how much they are thinking about how they are going to make a bubble, because this is not 100 people like these tournaments,” Nishikori said after his first-round match at the Italian Open on Monday.
“It’s 10,000 people in the village. So I don’t think it’s easy, especially what’s happening right now in Japan. It’s not doing good. Well, not even (just) Japan. You have to think all over the world right now.”
The world No.45 expresses a view similar to the of four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka who said earlier this week that she was ‘not sure’ if the event should go ahead due to the current case numbers.
“I’m an athlete, and of course my immediate thought is that I want to play in the Olympics,” she said.
“But as a human, I would say we’re in a pandemic, and if people aren’t healthy, and if they’re not feeling safe, then it’s definitely a really big cause for concern.”
In the latest figures published by health officials, Tokyo reported 925 news cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday which is an increase of almost 400 compared to the previous day. Although Monday figures are usually low due to the closure of testing centres over the weekend. Tuesday’s number is higher compared to this time last week (609 cases) and two weeks ago (828 cases).
Besides the COVID-19 concerns, the prospect of having to go to the Games without a member of family could result in the absence of four-time gold medallist Serena Williams. The former world No.1 says she is undecided on playing the event and hasn’t been separated from her three-year-old daughter for more than 24 hours before.
“I haven’t spent 24 hours without her, so that kind of answers the question itself,” said Williams.
“I haven’t really thought much about Tokyo, because it was supposed to be last year and now it’s this year, and then there is this pandemic and there is so much to think about.
“Then there are the Grand Slams. It’s just a lot. So I have really been taking it one day at a time to a fault, and I definitely need to figure out my next moves.”
Besides athlete concerns, Olympic organisers are also facing falling public support. A recent poll conducted by newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun found that nearly 60% of respondents wanted the Games to be cancelled. Furthermore TBS news reported 65% of people surveyed in another poll wanted the event either cancelled or suspended again, with 37% supporting the cancellation and 28% in favour of suspension.
The Olympic tennis event is set to start on July 24th.
Top Tennis Tournaments Among 97 Events UK Sport Hopes To Host Over The Next Decade
A plan for the ‘greatest decade of extraordinary sporting moments’ in the UK has been published and tennis is among the sports officials are interested in.
The government agency responsible for investing in Olympic and Paralympic sport within Great Britain has said they could submit an application to host two team tennis events over the next decade.
UK Sport has labelled both the Billie Jean King Cup and Davis Cup Finals as an ‘opportunity’ for them to host in their 10-year strategic plan which will last until 2021. Overall the country is looking at the possibility of staging 97 events across 44 sports over the next 10 years. Those behind the plan believe such a move could generate a total of £7 billion for the UK economy. A live feasibility study is already underway for bidding to host the 2030 football World Cup, 2026 European Athletic Championships and more.
“Together we have achieved so much in Olympic and Paralympic sport. Nevertheless, we are very aware there is no room for complacency and that we must build on our success to create the next exciting phase of high-performance sport,” UK Sport chair Dame Katherine Grainger said in a statement.
“One where we work even more collaboratively and inclusively to keep winning and win well, in ways that will inspire more people and have a broader impact on our society.
“Achieving on the world stage will still sit firmly at the heart of what we do. But we should not underestimate the powerful platform that provides us with, and it is our shared responsibility to better harness this for positive social change.”
When it comes to both the Billie Jean King Cup and Davis Cup, UK Sport has categorized them as a mega event. Meaning they are ‘seen as the pinnacle of their sport at World level and which have significant staging costs, attract more than 100,000 live spectators, entail considerable delivery complexity and require extensive public funding and guarantee commitments.’ At present they have been labelled as an ‘opportunity’ by the agency. Meaning that no decision to bid to host them has been made yet but remains a good possibility.
The government made no reference to what venues could be used, especially regarding the tennis events which will require more than one court due to the change of the tournament in recent years. The finals of the team events now last for a week or so and are done initially in a group format before turning into a knock-out stage.
This year’s Davis Cup finals are taking place across three European cities. However, the women’s equivalent remains in doubt after the ITF ended their contract with the Hungarian Tennis Association who were meant to be holding the event. Hungary recently sent a letter saying it was no longer feasible to do so due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The UK is best known for its staging of the prestigious Wimbledon Championships, as well as other grass-court events. Furthermore, it also experienced great success in hosting the ATP Finals between 2009-2020 which attracted more than 2.8 million visitors during that period.
Billie Jean King Cup Finals In Doubt After ‘Surprise’ Withdrawal By Host Hungary
Organisers face a race again time to find a new venue if they wish to hold the event this season which has already been postponed twice.
The International Tennis Federation has been dealt a blow after the Hungarian Tennis Association (HTA) said it is no longer feasible for them to host their premier women’s team event.
The finals of the Billie Jean King Cup, which was previously known as the Fed Cup, have been thrown into doubt this season after the termination of a contract. Reuters News Agency has reported that Budapest told the ITF they can no longer stage the event due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the various variants which pose a risk. It is understood that a letter detailing their decision was sent on April 22nd.
Back in February both the ITF and HTA said they were committed to staging the event later on in the year at some stage. A total of 12 teams has qualified for the event which involves more than 60 athletes, support teams, officials and event staff. It has already been postponed twice due to the pandemic.
“We have been working closely with the Hungarian Government and the Hungarian Tennis Association (HTA) to review all feasible options to reschedule this year’s Finals,” ITF Chief David Haggerty told Reuters.
“After working together in good faith for the past year, we were surprised and disappointed to be informed that the HTA no longer considers it possible to hold the event in Budapest.
“Given the timing, the ITF has been left with no other option than to end the hosting agreement with Hungary and explore an alternative solution.”
Finding an alternative solution will be easier said than done. Not only are the ITF on the lookout for a country who can stage a week-long event at such short notice, they are also still working on what date to schedule it which will not collide with the WTA Tour.
Also in their letter, the HTA reportedly said that they had wanted to look into the contract which was signed back in 2019. To ensure that the event which would have been financed by Hungarian tax payers would have ‘minimal losses.’
Despite the setback, Haggerty has vowed to stage the revamped competition when it is possible to do so. In 2019 it was announced that the competition would be changed to a ‘world cup of tennis’ format. Similar to that of the Davis Cup, which has been transformed following a substantial investment by Kosmos. Teams will not compete for US$18 million, with US$12 million going to players and US$6 million to national associations.
“The ITF will do everything in its power — for the sport, the players, nations, and the fans — to ensure this landmark competition in tennis and women’s sports will be held as soon as it is reasonably practicable,” Haggerty said.
France, Russia, Hungary, Australia, Belarus, Belgium, the United States, Spain, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Germany and Switzerland are the teams set to play in the Finals.
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