ITF promises serious probe into Fatma’s complaint

Muscat, Sept 30 – Oman’s tennis star Fatma al Nabhani has said that she has received a mail from the International Tennis Federation (ITF) promising to look into the matter regarding the racist mistreatment she faced at a tournament in France recently. Fatma spoke to Oman Daily Observer over a telephonic chat and revealed the ITF had responded to her complaint about the mistreatment and racist behaviour by the French officials.  “I have received a mail from the ITF and they have said they are sorry for the way I was treated. They said they are taking the matter very seriously and will be investigating what happened during the match in detail,’’ Fatma stated.

The incident Fatma had to face occurred during the first round match of the $25k ITF tournament held in Clermond-Ferrand in France where she retired mid-way through the third set. Prior to the first round game against Elsa Jacquemot of France, Fatma was told by the chair umpire to remove her leggings before the match which Fatma strongly objected to. The Omani star, who has been active on the professional circuit for 12 years, then told the chair umpire to check with the tournament director before saying anything. “The tournament director clearly told him (umpire) that the ITF rules allow for leggings till the length of the knee. But the umpire still told me to pull the leggings up and I did it by one inch and then he said some more and I pulled it by one more inch,’’ she added.

What made it worse for Fatma was when she was asked as to why she was wearing the leggings by the chair umpire. “After the umpire told me to remove the leggings, he asked me if I am wearing the leggings because of my religion and I said yes. The kind of questions they were asking was just not fair and ridiculous,’’ Fatma revealed. Apart from the leggings issue, Fatma was at the receiving end of racist behaviour from the umpire and the player. “They (umpire and player) would talk and laugh during changeover in French, and since there were no ball boys, my opponent would just refuse to pick the balls on her side of the court and throw it out. She would throw a ball on the net just to distract me and I complained to the umpire.
“Since the umpire was not willing to take a decision, I requested him to call the tournament director and there again he refused me my right to talk to the tournament director,’’ she added.
Fatma revealed that the chair umpire was biased in the fact that he even overruled the linesman’s decision when it came to points.
“I had seven match points in the second set out of which five were snatched from me for no reason. They were wrong decisions and clearly against me,’’ Fatma stated.
Fatma expressed her disappointment about the entire incident saying this was the worst situation she has ever faced.
“It was really bad, the entire incident. I have never felt like this before and I am not the kind of person to retire from a match. By the third set I couldn’t take it anymore since the chair umpire was just not willing to listen to me and was totally biased,’’ she added.
In a difficult situation such as this, what would be encouraging for Fatma is the fact that other players who were present during the said match would give their version of the events.
“There were other players and they know what happened exactly. So, they will give a clear picture as well,’’ she said.
Fatma is overwhelmed by the kind of support she has been getting from people all over the Middle East and around the world after the incident.
“I am really thankful to everyone who has supported me and reached out to me after what has happened. It is overwhelming,’’ Fatma said.
Fatma also mentioned that there was a similar incident that happened in 2015 in a tournament in Tunisia.
“It was very cold in Tunisia where we were playing and I had my leggings on as you would expect and the chair umpire asked me to remove it. I clearly said it is not possible and I continued, and there were even other European players wearing leggings because of the weather. The ITF later wrote to them stating it was allowed to wear leggings,’’ she added.