It has been just a few weeks since the US Open women’s final saw Naomi Osaka’s title win overshadowed by Serena Williams’ rant at the chair umpire alleging racism.
Hardly had the debate of racism settled in the tennis world, comes another case of alleged racism, this time experienced by Oman’s star Fatma al Nabhani.
A regular campaigner on the pro circuit, Fatma was competing in the ITF US$25,000 Clermont-Ferrand women’s tournament in France, when she quit her second-round match against French No 3 seed Myrtille Georges on Thursday.
With the sets tied at 1-1 after Fatma had won 7-5 before losing the second 6-7, Myrtille was leading 3-0 in the decider when the Omani star walked out of the match.
Speaking to Muscat Daily , after she put out an emotional message alleging racism and mistreatment at the tournament on her Instagram, Fatma said, “In my whole lifetime and my tennis playing career, I have never experienced the real meaning of racism as much as I have experienced it in Clermont, France. Tennis always taught me sportsmanship and equality...but what happened in Clermont is not acceptable. I have submitted a written complaint to the ITF [world governing body] and WTA.”
“I am happy that the ITF has agreed to probe my allegations of racism, mistreatment and biased umpiring as it considers these issues serious,” the 27 year old Fatma told Muscat Daily on her return to Muscat on Saturday.
Fatma said, “Being a Muslim player and from an Arab country I wear leggings under my skirt respecting my religion and to feel comfortable to compete and continue playing tennis. The ITF attire rule allows us to play with leggings that are below knee length and I have been playing like this for the past 12 years competing in ITF and WTA [events] and I never had an issue with my attire.
“Ahead of the start of my first round match against Elsa Jacquemot from France, the French chair umpire before the toss objected to my leggings. I told him that I won’t remove it and I have been playing like this for the past 12 years. Initially, he refused but the intervention of the tournament director saw it resolved. Despite that, the chair umpire asked me to pull up my leggings by at least two inches before I could play - because those two inches were a big deal for him. I pulled up my leggings and didn’t say anything more and played the match.”
Fatma won the first round match 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 but in the next round, she lost her patience against Myrtille and quit in the third set.
“During the whole match, the chair umpire was chatting with my opponent at the changeover in French that I couldn’t understand and both were laughing,” she said.
“Moreover there were many times during the match the linesman calls were overruled by the chair umpire and after protesting against my rival’s behaviour, I sought the supervisor’s intervention. The chair umpire refused. I was a victim of bad umpiring. And when I protested, he gave me code violation. I finally quit the match as I couldn’t take the unfair umpiring anymore.”
Fatma’s two-part emotional video on her Instagram account recounted the incidents. In her video, she said, “I have been playing tennis since [I was] a kid and participating in tournaments around the world.
“I have been playing in the pro circuit since 2007. I have never faced racism in my life, I know this is a very sensitive topic to speak about but what I faced in Clermont, France was not acceptable.”
In the second part of the video, Fatma referred to the umpire’s conduct, saying, “The way I was treated by him [chair umpire], the way I was treated by some staff in the tournament, the way I was treated the match before, why? Just because I’m Muslim, just because my mum is wearing hijab, just because I’m Arab? Well I’m Muslim, I’m proud of it, I’m Arab, I’m proud of it, I’ll stand for myself and I’ll stand for all the other players. We don’t get treated this way.”
© Apex Press and Publishing