Earlier this month, the ATP (Association of Tennis Players) and sponsor Red Bull took heavy criticism after the Next Gen Tennis Milan ceremony in Italy made players choose their groups for the tournament by selecting models.
As you can imagine, this created a social media storm. And, rightly so. Out dated, sexist and humiliating. Some of words used to describe this remarkable ceremony.
For the uninitiated, the Next Gen is an inaugural tennis tournament showcasing the world’s best eight singles players under the age of 21. The tournament uses a round robin group of four format, culminating in a semi-final and final to determine the best young tennis player.
World number three Alexander Zverev led the Next Gen leader board. However, he qualified for the ATP Nitto London Finals instead, featuring Roger Federer and Spaniard Rafa Nadal. Sensibly, Zverev opted to play in London.
The draw for the tennis tournament took place in Milan last Sunday. Milan in Italy is one of the fashion capitals in the world. A point relevant for later in this piece.
As mentioned, each young tennis player took turns to choose a model. Fail number #1. Each model had a ‘hidden’ letter on their body. Fail number #2. The letter tells the player which is their chosen group.
After the player chooses the model, the pair walks arm-in-arm and model shows the corresponding letter to the audience and viewers. The players looked uncomfortable with the whole process.
Social media lit up afterwards. Words like ‘sexist’, ‘demeaning’ ‘disgrace’, ‘trashy’ and ‘shameful’. Grand slam winner and Andy Murray’s former coach Amelie Mauresmo voiced her disdain. Judy Murray OBE made her feelings quite clear too.
Red Bull as the main sponsor. There were murmurings that the ATP felt extremely unhappy about the ceremony for Next Gen finals and inquest about what happened.
Full apologies from ATP and Red Bull followed quickly:
“ATP and Red Bull apologise for the offence caused by the draw ceremony for the Next Gen ATP Finals,” the statement said. “The intention was to integrate Milan’s rich heritage as one of the fashion capitals of the world. However, our execution of the proceedings was in poor taste and unacceptable. We deeply regret this and will ensure that there is no repeat of anything like it in the future.”
The weak part of the statement is and I quote ‘The intention was to integrate Milan’s rich heritage as one the fashion capitals of the world’. This is surprising. Yes, Milan is one of the fashion capitals. No – associating with something like this hurts their reputation.
Therefore, why didn’t someone give this ‘idea’ a reality check? Or perhaps, someone did and their advice ignored? This is one of PR’s strength. A PR person can advise here. Most noteworthy, was there a PR person in the room when this idea was created? Who knows.
Lots of sports are seen to be too slow changing to fit into today’s modern world. Tennis is seen as progressive. As a result, ATP Executive Chairman and President Chris Kermode wanted to trial new changes: electronic line judging, shorter warm ups and 25-second shot clock.
This embarrassment overshadowed the new trials. Yet, one week later, pundits are talking about the subject, still. I suspect the ATP will be dealing with this backlash for some time.