Tennis champion Serena Williams has criticised Russian Tennis Federation president Shamil Tarpischev for making “extremely sexist, racist and bullying” comments about her and her sister, Venus.
Last week, the captain of the Russian Davis Cup and Fed Cup appeared on a Russian state TV and referred to Serena and her sister Venus as “the Williams brothers.” He has since been suspended from the Women’s Tennis Association for one year and fined $25,000.
According to BBC, chairman and chief executive of the WTA, Stacey Allaster, stated that the remarks were “insulting, demeaning and have absolutely no place in our sport.”
Additionally, the United States Tennis Association described the comments as “reprehensible”.
Shamil, who is also a member of the International Olympic Committee made the comments during a talk show appearance with former Olympic singles champion Elena Dementieva. When Elena was asked what it was like to play against the Williams sisters, Tarpischev chimed in and called the championship duo the “Williams brothers” and stated that “It’s scary when you really look at them.”
Speaking at a press conference in Singapore before the WTA finals with Maria Sharapova, who she will be competing against for the year-end No. 1 ranking, Serena admitted that she was unhappy about Tarpischev’s “bullying remarks.” Williams went on to state that she was pleased with the swift action that was taken.
“I thought they were very insensitive and extremely sexist as well as racist at the same time,” said Williams. “I thought they were in a way bullying. I’ve done the best that I can do, and that’s all I can say. So I just wasn’t very happy with his comments. I think a lot of people weren’t happy as well … but the WTA and the USTA did a wonderful job of making sure that in this day and age, 2014, for someone with his power, it’s really unacceptable to make such bullying remarks.”
Sharapova, the only Russian woman currently ranked in the top 10, also condemned the derogatory remarks about the William sisters.
“I think they were very disrespectful and uncalled for, and I’m glad that many people have stood up, including the WTA,” she said. “It was very inappropriate, especially in his position and all the responsibilities that he has not just in sport, but being part of the Olympic committee. It was just really irresponsible on his side.”
The Guardian reported that Tarpischev has since apologized for the incident and claimed it was a joke that was taken out of context and blown out of proportion.
“I did not want to cause any offence or make fun of any of the sportsmen,” he said. “I am sorry that the joke I made, when translated into English, was taken out of the context of a chat show and so much attention has been brought towards it.” He also added, “I don’t think that the incident needed to be blown out of proportion. Everything that was said on the TV show was said without meaning to cause offence.”
Tarpischev has been chairman of the Kremlin Cup, Russia’s only WTA event, for its entire 18 years as a women’s tour event. However, the WTA has stated that they would pursue his removal as chairman of the event.
Williams, 33, is currently the world number one – and has had a great year, winning six titles including the US Open. Serena has also won 18 Grand Slam singles titles, with Venus winning seven.