Thursday, February 7, 2008

Heard Around February 7, 2008

by Savannah

That Racism/Ethnic Thing

There have been several stories percolating around tennis fan boards since the end of the Australian Open that bear some mention. All involve some form of racial or ethnic insensitivity.

  • The behavior of the Djokovic Family during the Australian Open Final was called classless by many observers. This included Novak’s behavior by the way. The discussion took a different turn when fans of Eastern European descent felt the attacks were part Western Europe’s disdain for the people of Eastern Europe. These fans protested the classification of the family’s behavior and deemed it at the least ethnic bias.
  • Israeli fans behavior during a Fed Cup tie between Israel and Russia where Israeli fans were a bit more “exuberant” than is usually seen during a tennis match was roundly condemned. When top Israeli player Shahar Pe’er seemed to be joining in the taunting of the Russian women her behavior was condemned as well. The Captain of the Russian team filed a complaint with the ITF over the entire situation. Conversation about the incidents degenerated into an Israel vs The World situation with Israeli fans saying the condemnations were anti Israeli not anti hooliganism.
  • Spanish players have pushed themselves to the forefront of questionable behavior. Fernando Verdasco was roundly criticized when during last years Roger’s Cup, faced with boisterous fans, asked if he was in Africa. Within the last couple of days a picture of the Spanish Fed Cup team surfaced showing the players, families and friends tugging at their eyelids imitating the eyes of Asian people. Spanish tennis fans say the women meant no harm. Most Asian posters disagreed. That several fans showed up at a F1 event in Barcelona in black face with “Hamilton’s Family” scrawled on their tee shirts didn’t help. Lewis Hamilton has been at loggerheads with Spain’s Fernando Alonso for a year. As I write this it’s unclear if Alonso stepped forward to condemn the “fans”.
  • A widely read American tennis blogger Peter Bodo posted a column comparing what is characterized as the calm cool demeanor and play of Northern European Roger Federer to what he classifies as the thoughtless, animalistic play of Rafael Nadal. Nadal is described as not using too much strategy when on court while Federer is described as a clinician, someone who is always thinking. Guess this guy doesn’t know much about clay court play where Nadal is a genius at constructing points, something American players seem to not be able to do too well. Someone who has made two Wimbledon finals, the latest after a three peat at the clay majors leading up to it, made the semi’s of Australia and won Indian Wells last year is simply an instinctual player according to this blogger. When was the last time an American, or a Brit for that matter, has done so well? Last I checked most of the Americans, even the one of color, are blessed with the intellectual genes of Northern Europe. The blogger also included Novak Djokovic in his pantheon of great Northern European players thus bringing us full circle.

But I digress. I’m not posting pictures or links to this stuff since it can be googled and easily found by visiting any of the big tennis fan sites all of which have (or had) large discussion threads on these topics. These incidents are not just part of tennis.

A call by a broadcaster on the Golf Channel for young golfers to “lynch” Tiger Woods in an alley was dismissed as a poor choice of words by the golf establishment and said to be nothing by Mr. Woods himself. This was followed by Golf Magazine featuring a hangman’s noose on its cover to push an article discussing the Golf Channel incident. The person responsible for that was fired. I don’t know Mr. Woods feelings on the magazine cover.

The Soccer establishment is struggling with racial and ethnic issues. Rafael Nadal joined other athletes in condemning racism in his beloved futbol and sport in general last year. But is it enough for athletes to speak out about issues that highlight troubling social issues?
What is a fan to do when speaking out on the behavior of other fans treads on territory that he/she barely knew existed? Are the fans who condemned the Djokovic’s behavior as well as the behavior of the Israeli fans ethnically biased or anti Semitic? What about the fans who, hearing that Serena Williams withdrew from Antwerp automatically assumed she was going to Super Bowl parties? Are they racially insensitive or just looking to stir up more anti Williams sentiment. Is there a difference in those motiviations?

Honestly I think people know when they’re pushing it. When a discussion of horrible fan behavior (and officiating) leads to posts condemning the religion of the fans don’t those people know what they’re doing? When posts condemning the antics of one family say that it’s “typical” behavior what are those “fans” trying to say? When a respected blogger posts about a players “animalistic” demeanor on court isn’t he responsible for an alleged tennis fan posting that said player is a “wild animal”? The above incidents actually occurred. Again I reference you to the major fan sites and Mr. Bodo’s blog for proof. I am not bringing this site down by linking to the posts or pictures.

Davis Cup

The men play Davis Cup this weekend. Funny how the pictures featuring the men are much more varied and don’t focus on one player. For more in depth Davis Cup coverage please visit Craig's blog. I'm doing the purty pictures.

Team Argentina

David Nalbandian and British Captain John Lloyd

Original Russian Team

Marat and Shamil

Team Britain

Peter Lundgren and Alex Bogdonovic

Team Spain

Tommy Robredo

Kristof Vliegen and Steve Darcis of Belgium

Team Romania

Team France

Team Austria

Team USA(Minus Bob Bryan)


tangerine said...

Good post. It just goes to show that racism is not just an American problem. In fact none of these incidents involve Americans at all. It seems to me that racism in Europe is more overt whereas racism in America seems to flow in undercurrents.

Bodo's blog is a curiosity because I know for a fact that he's a big fan of Nadal but you'd never know it after reading his "Jet Boy" comments.

btw, did you see this question about Richard Williams in this week's SI mailbag? It's relevant to your blog today:

tristann said...

Wow, what an explosive topic, Savannah, but it needed to be said.

- About the behavior of Spanish fans: I was mortified. The Spanish ministry of sport needs to take drastic action NOW. Shut down the cirtuit of Montmelo and threaten Valencia. Zero tolerance. As frequently happens with occurences as these, it is only a few directly involved, but if the majority turns a blind eye, they are all participants.

- About the Serbians claiming criticisms are ethnic. They need to get over it! The djokovics are boorish and ill-mannered. Jankovic is just as serbian, and her mother's gracious behavior is probably the only reason I root for the serbian drama queen.

- About the Bodo piece: Bodo stooped to a new low. It is interesting to study a player's cultural and personal background and speculate how it influences his/her game. But Bodo did not do this. He just used cheap stereotypes to portray a player he never has respected much, as little more than a simpleton naturally endowed with great physical abilities. Yuck!

Sorry for the long comment. Again, great post.

Shannon said...

I hadn't heard that about Fernando Verdasco! What a thing to say.

And the Bodo blog is pure nonsense. He got a silly notion in his head ("oooh, Roger's a pale dude from snowy Switzerland, Rafa's a fiesty tan dude from sunny Spain!") and, enchanted by his own cleverness, expanded it into acres of clueless and insulting generalizations. Whatever.

But, ok. I'll admit it. Djokovic's behavior and that of his family DOES mean I'm prejudiced. Yes, it does. I'm prejudiced against jackasses. There, I said it.

*shuffles away in shame*

Savannah said...

I think the Spanish tennis authorities need to do something as well. The suggestions listed sound like a good start. Zero tolerance.

Regarding the Serbians and the Djokovic's I wonder if boorish behavior will now go uncommented on since the Serbian fans (not all but some) have declared that negative comments are biased?

I couldn't get to the Wertheim mailbag piece. Still trying though.