French Tennis Federation's decision over Sharapova's wildcard felt more about drama than integrity

Reem Abulleil says the French Tennis Federation were going for drama rather than sending out a message of integrity and that the end to this wildcard saga cannot come soon enough.

Reem Abulleil
by Reem Abulleil
17th May 2017

article:17th May 2017

Under the microscope: Maria Sharapova.
Under the microscope: Maria Sharapova.

Has there ever been a wildcard decision debated as fiercely as the one regarding Maria Sharapova’s entry into the French Open? It’s highly doubtful.

The French Tennis Federation (FFT) announced on Tuesday that the Russian, who returned from a 15-month doping suspension last month, will not receive an invitation to play at Roland Garros – not in qualifying and not in the main draw.


That piece of information was revealed in dramatic fashion by federation president Bernard Giudicelli during a Facebook Live video.

The new head of French tennis sat in front of a camera, waited several minutes to make sure enough people had tuned in, then started by listing the wildcard recipients for the men’s main draw and qualifying rounds, followed by the women’s.

It took him 10 minutes to reveal that Sharapova would not get an invitation, and then went on to say the reason behind his decision was that he has a “mission to protect the sport”.

Naturally Giudicelli’s call, just like Sharapova herself, has been a divisive one.

The FFT president’s decision is being portrayed as a triumph in the supposed fight for the integrity of tennis. But Sharapova’s supporters, including the WTA, have been critical of Giudicelli and his comments during the announcement.

WTA CEO Steve Simon released a statement late on Tuesday saying he did not agree with the FFT’s choice to base their decision on Sharapova’s past.

“There are no grounds for any member of the TADP (Tennis Anti-Doping Program) to penalise any player beyond the sanctions set forth in the final decisions resolving these matters,” said Simon.

I’m not sure why the WTA felt the need to put out a statement when the French Open is an ITF event, run by a federation. Why the urge to run to Sharapova’s defence?

She is capable of releasing a statement herself – she tweeted a brief message yesterday – and it’s not like a great injustice has been done. She has only been back for less than four weeks, she’ll get her ranking up soon enough and will be getting into grand slams – and possibly winning them – on her own merit in no time. Granted, giving her a qualifying wildcard would have been a wise compromise, but not giving it to her is no catastrophe.

Also Simon’s use of the word ‘penalise’ is not really applicable in this case because no player is entitled to a wildcard (unless you won a tournament specifically held to compete for that wildcard), which means not getting one is not a penalty in any way.

Wildcards are given out at the discretion of tournament organisers/owners and while they are often debatable, the whole thing is simply not our call.

It seems the narrative with Sharapova only works in extremes at the moment. People are either vilifying her, or supporting her blindly. There are a lot of grey areas surrounding her case but now that she has completed the ban she was handed by an independent tribunal, can we not all just move on?

The wildcard saga took on a life of its own. It was almost deliberately blown out of proportion to draw more attention to the French Open and we all fell for it.

Their choice of making the announcement via a Facebook Live video is proof that they wanted to make a production out of the situation. The extended prelude was meant to add suspense.

By all means, if drama is the goal, then they have certainly achieved it. But then why hide behind the veil of doing this for the sake of the integrity of the sport?

They’re only giving Sharapova, and her camp, more reason to portray herself as a victim, when in reality, she made a mistake, paid for it, and like the rest of the world, it will take her just a bit of time to bounce back from it.

The 30-year-old Russian has been a fighter her entire life and we can expect nothing less from her right now.

She will need a wildcard if she was to play in the Wimbledon main draw and here’s hoping the All England Club don’t go down the same route as the French Open did by attempting to produce another psychological thriller movie.

A simple statement in an email should suffice! And by the time the US Open comes around, Sharapova will no doubt already be in the top 100 and we’ll hopefully be done with this debate once and for all.


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