>> At U.S. Open, scrutiny over controversial comments about gay players
En juillet dernier, Sergiy Stakhovsky, 60e au classement mondial et membre du Conseil des joueurs de l’ATP, déclarait lors d’une interview au site xsport.ua, « qu’il ne mettrait jamais sa fille au tennis, la moitié des joueuses sur le circuit étant lesbiennes ».
Il se félicitait néanmoins de constater que « l’homosexualité n’avait pas gagné les rangs du circuit masculin » :
« Je ne mettrais pas ma main au feu… mais dans le top 100 de l’ATP, il n’y a pas de gays. Sinon, on le saurait, c’est un circuit fermé. Vous voyez, chez nous, il y a une ambiance normale. Même s’il y a eu des rumeurs concernant Gasquet, Nadal et même Federer. »
« Ce que vous avez déclaré est homophobe », lui rétorquait aussitôt sur les réseaux, Martina Navratilova, légende du tennis féminin et militante LGBT, qui lui proposera même une rencontre pour en discuter.
Propos condamnés également par le patron du circuit ATP et de la directrice de la WTA, qui ne susciteront cependant aucune sanction. Mais, pour faire taire la polémique, Stakhovsky présentera ensuite ses excuses sur twitter : « Je ne voulais pas offenser. »
Invoquant de nouveau « la boutade » à New York, à la veille de sa défaite contre Jo-Wilfried Tsonga à l’US Open, « l’Ukrainien », comme on l’appelle sur les circuits, n’a pas manqué de renouveler « ses analyses », expliquant ainsi dans une interview à USA Today, que « sur une centaine de gars, s’il y en avait un qui était différent, ça se verrait, non ? Dans un vestiaire où la moitié des mecs se baladent nus sous leurs serviettes ça se verrait. Ça se ressent quand même si quelqu’un l’est ou pas.
Et de clarifier encore : « Pour moi, cela n’a aucune importance que quelqu’un soit gay ou pas. D’ailleurs, je ne suis pas homophobe. Mon meilleur ami est gay et mon coiffeur aussi ! Et pour la WTA, je sais bien comment ça se passe. Mais bon ça ne veut pas dire qu’on traiterait mal un joueur homosexuel mais ça ne sert à rien d’en parler parce que s’il y en avait on l’aurait remarqué. »
Selon Brett Haber, présentateur sur Tennis Channel et engagé avec Athlete Ally qui défend les droits des personnes LGBT dans le sport, il est important que des voix s’élèvent et que des joueurs importants prennent symboliquement position : « Je ne vais pas dire au conseil comment faire son travail, et je sais que les joueurs sont en grande majorité tolérants et intelligents. Mais l’image renvoyée par Stakhovsky est terrible, ce qu’il dit est épouvantable. Évidemment qu’il y a des joueurs gays sur le circuit, on le sait. Maintenant ce n’est jamais simple d’être un pionnier. Ne nous mentons pas, le premier joueur qui fera son coming out en subira sans doute les conséquences relationnelles mais aussi au niveau des sponsors. C’est inévitable, et ce n’est plus qu’une question de qui et de quand, pas de si. »
Pour le moment, l’Ukrainien siège toujours au conseil chargé de défendre les intérêts des joueurs.
>> Addressing controversial comments he made during Wimbledon, Ukrainian tennis player Sergiy Stakhovsky said Thursday that he’s certain there are no closeted gay men in the top 100, adding that he believes there are “a lot” of lesbian players on the women’s tour.
“I think it’s a lot, yes. I don’t have a problem with it,” though, Stakhovsky said when asked about his previous comments regarding lesbians on the WTA. Stakovsky spoke in an interview with a handful of media outlets a day before he was scheduled to play Jo-Wilifried Tsonga of France in the third round of the U.S. Open.
“If there are 100 guys, or 128 guys, I mean, if somebody’s different, he falls out, doesn’t he?” said Stakhovsky, ranked No. 60 in the world. “In a locker room, where half the guys walking in towels are naked, yeah, you definitely would see something different, no?”
Stakhovsky was quoted by a Ukrainian media outlet in July as saying that half of the women on the WTA were lesbians, and that he would never want his daughter to play tennis because of it. He said Thursday those quotes were misconstrued, but maintained his stance of lesbians in tennis.
“Through my years, I have a lot of great relationship with WTA players. So I do know how the WTA locker room is like,” he said, explaining that he is also friends with many male coaches on the WTA, who have told him about lesbians on tour. “It’s not like we’re going to mistreat somebody in the locker room, it doesn’t matter [if that] person is a homosexual or not to me. We live in a world where everybody has the right to be what he wants to be. Nobody can say anything to me, it’s my life, I can do whatever I want with it.”
He continued: “For me, I don’t think the community in tennis would discriminate a gay if he would turn up.”
The reported comments in July were especially unsettling because Stakhovksy, 29, who has won four career titles and has been ranked as high as world No. 31, is part of the ATP’s Player Council. The Council is comprised of 12 individuals, including president Eric Butorac, an American doubles player. It also includes John Isner, Stan Wawrinka, Gilles Simon and Kevin Anderson.
“None of us were happy with what he said [in July],” Butorac said Thursday. “After a lot of deliberations we decided to keep him on the council. We didn’t release a statement, but I think in the future we would.
“Players have become very supportive [of gay rights],” added Butorac. “I don’t agree with his comments. I think people would be supportive of an openly gay player coming out.”
In an interview last month with USA TODAY Sports, former world No. 1 Andy Roddick dismissed the comments, saying Stakhovsky did not speak for the tour as a whole.
“I’m not going to let one player’s comments define my sport as a whole. I think that’s a little naïve,” Roddick said. “I’m certainly not going to let someone express their views and let it delete the history of our sport and what we’re proud of. We accept and celebrate our champions regardless of who they are as people.”
Roddick, along with Mardy Fish, Martina Navratilova, Rennae Stubbs and James Blake are part of Athlete Ally, a group of straight and LGBT athletes who promote inclusion and openness in sports.
Stubbs, a former doubles standout and current ESPN commentator, said Stakhovsky’s comments didn’t “deserve a wide audience.”
“We’ve had a lot more women come out, so we have an environment of respect,” Stubbs told USA TODAY Sports in a phone interview. “The ATP hasn’t had that. It would take a Jason Collins, a brave person to come out and be who they are comfortably. I would guarantee you that 85% of the guys in that locker room would treat that person with total respect.”
Blake, the former American star, agreed.
“There’s a pretty small chance that there isn’t one gay person in [men’s tennis],” Blake told USA TODAY Sports in a recent interview. “You’re kidding yourself. If anyone on the men’s tour wanted to come out, I would hope that he’d be supported by every single player and Stakhovsky would be the outcast. It’s something I’m extremely passionate about because it’s somewhat similar to the Civil Rights movement. To exclude any human being for who they love, that’s horrible. It’s not something I promote.”
Stakhovsky, however, is insistent that there is no gay men’s tennis player – at least among the top 128.
“I believe you have that feeling” if someone is gay, he said Thursday. “I think that players would sense something. Players talk to each other, we have a group community, everybody talks to everybody. Which means somehow it would fall out. Some stories, rumors would fall out.”
“At the moment right now it’s kind of nonsense to say that there are,” he continued. “We’re spending a lot of time in the same locker room, you kind of have a feeling if somebody is or if they’re not.”
Billie Jean King and Navratilova were trailblazers as out lesbians during their careers, while Amelie Mauresmo was outed when she made a run to the 1999 Australian Open final. Current player Casey Dellacqua, an Australian doubles standout, came out after her partner gave birth to a baby boy two years ago.
“As someone who was out for half of their career, there was never a time in the locker room where I thought about the person who was next to me,” Stubbs added. “It’s an ignorant statement. It’s completely incorrect to say half of the women’s tour is gay. That’s completely wrong. To me, it’s crazy that he’s still on the ATP council. Those are inflammatory and outrageous comments.”
Roddick said that if there is one gay male player, it doesn’t matter to him and he feels the tour would support him.
“I’m certainly not on the lookout. If there was [a gay male player], I have full confidence that people would go about their business as they would,” he said. “If it does come to fruition and is a reality and someone wants to do that, tennis will react in a great way. Trying to predict who is or who isn’t or am I surprised that no one has come out, that’s a game that I don’t choose to play. When it does become a relevant conversation, I have full confidence that tennis will carry itself well.”