The International Tennis Federation (ITF) is looking into a complaint by UKLFI about Iraqi wheelchair tennis players pulling out of a competition to avoid playing against Israelis.
At the Bucharest Open Wheelchair Tennis Tournament in August 2022, Iraqi players Nasr Mahdi and Mohammad Al-Mahdi withdrew from the tournament immediately before it started because they had been drawn against Israeli competitors. The decision was announced to the media by President of the Iraqi Tennis Federation, Majid Al-Ugaili.
UKLFI wrote to Alistair Wilson, head of Wheelchair Tennis at the ITF, pointing out that the Iraqis had breached many of the Wheelchair Tennis regulations and urged the ITF to enforce the rules against the Iraqi competitors who broke them along with their Federation which promoted their action.
There have recently been several other instances of competitors refusing to face Israeli opponents involving tennis, Football, Taekwondo, fencing, volleyball and chess.
Sam Green, director of UKLFI commented: “This is not an isolated or spontaneous action. This is part of a sophisticated, multinational, and highly organised campaign to target international sporting events and use them as platforms for political goals. Wheelchair tennis has an opportunity to prevent political gamesmanship from becoming entrenched in its sport, to prevent the disruption that brings, and prevent the isolation and delegitimization of an important contributor to wheelchair sport.”
The Israeli team had excelled at the Bucharest event: the winner of the women’s event was Israeli, the winner of the quad event was Israeli, an Israeli pair reached the semi-finals of the men’s doubles, and half of the winning pair in the women’s doubles was Israeli.
The ITF Wheelchair Tennis Mission Statement says it seeks “to create opportunities for wheelchair athletes to play and compete at all levels of the sport.” UKLFI pointed out that if ITF fails to act against the use of sporting events for unrelated, irrelevant reasons, contrary to the rules, it would lead to further limiting of opportunities for wheelchair athletes to compete on an equal basis.
Appendix B states that the Purpose of the Code of Conduct is “to maintain fair and reasonable standards of conduct by players, Related Persons, Covered Persons… and to protect their respective rights, the rights of the public and the integrity of the Sport of Tennis.”
Refusing to play opponents who have earned their right to compete and disrupting the staging of a tournament with political posturing is neither fair nor reasonable and undermines the integrity of the sport of tennis.
Under ‘Provisions for Late Withdrawals’ the following is stated:
“In circumstances that are flagrant and particularly injurious to the success of a tournament, or are singularly egregious, a single violation of this Section shall also constitute the Major Offence of “Aggravated Behaviour”.
UKLFI wrote that refusing to compete because you would prefer a different opponent is a flagrant violation, particularly injurious to the Tournament and was a Major Offence of Aggravated Behaviour.
Mr Wilson of the ITF responded to UKLFI saying: “… Thank you for the information you have shared, which is useful. Our purpose is indeed to create opportunities for wheelchair athletes to play and compete at all levels of the sport. The regulations provide the framework for our competitions and behavioural standards, which all players are expected to adhere to – while ITF endeavours to uphold those regulations and standards to help maintain the integrity of the sport.”