Welcome to Open Court, the newsletter and platform space where we discuss the things we need to talk about in sports and life. I'm Joanne C. Gerstner, a sports writer, author, decent tennis player, cat lover and hater of snow. Thanks for coming along for the ride.
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It's Open Court mailbag time...drumroll! I always appreciate hearing from the Open Court fam, and you are highly encouraged to ask questions, comment and share. You get me thinking, and while that may be dangerous, it's always good. So thank you for your brainpower.
Here's what you have asked me about:
Question: The first one came from five of you, in the same vein.
What should the sports world do with Russia? What should happen to athletes representing Russia, Russian national teams, and Russia hosting competitions? (Thank you to Natalia, Pat, Sacha, Ed and Connie for their versions of this big question.)
Open Court: Yeah. Hmmm....what do we do, indeed. As Russia continues its ongoing war crime-level brutalization of Ukraine, we have to really confront how much of its identity is based on sports. Vladimir Putin loves sports and the athletes that cement his Russian superiority ideology. And if you are into the tabloids, Putin may love sports so much that his lover and mother of his four kids may be two-time Olympic gold medal-winning rhythmic gymnast Alina Kabaeva.
The soccer world has moved hard on Russia by removing the Euro 2022 from St. Petersburg and punting it from World Cup qualifying. Putin's oligarch buddies who own EPL teams are in a crapton of hot water in the U.K. Meanwhile, other individual sporting federations are removing Russia and Belarus from competitions, blocking their national teams, and tournaments are moving to other countries. The IOC, with the blessing/behest of the Beijing organizers, kicked the Russia-not-Russia team and Belarus out of the Paralympics a day before it started.
But the places that are not yet locking the Russians out are showing their asses a bit. The World Cup gymnasts event in Doha had a Russian, Ivan Kuliak, wearing a symbol (the letter Z) on his uniform as a sign of support for the invasion. FIG banned the Russian flag from being shown, or the national anthem from being played, but allowed Russian athletes to compete. So Kuliak rolled in putting a Z, which the Russians have emblazoned on their military vehicles, as a swap out for the Russian flag. Bonus round: he did this stunt while standing next to an Ukrainian athlete - and says he has zero regrets.
FIG now has banned Russia and Belarus, effective March 7, and is allegedly going to discipline Kuliak.
But the IOC has not yet really slapped down the Russians, even after all the doping and cheating issues. Qatar, the host of the upcoming men’s World Cup, is strengthening sporting ties with the Russians - welcoming their money and athletes. (May I add in sidebar that Russia and Qatar bribed big time to host their World Cups. Shocker.)
I come back to the place where we need to know our history: Mussolini, ahem, a journalist, used the ideology of creating a society of superior athletes as part of his fascist plan. AC Roma, the Italian Open tennis tournament and the 1960 Olympics all are/were at Foro Italico - a sprawling complex filled with landmarks - down to the phallic obelisk that says “Mussolini”, linking his prowess with athletic achievement. The physical reminders of fascism are everywhere. It's horrifying.
We know about Hitler and the utter toxic waves of propaganda delivered by 1936 Berlin Olympics. Argentina’s dictators used the national love of soccer to promote their poison of control and repression. And oh, yeah, China has hosted two Olympics to validate its leaders’ vision of superiority.
The word fan is short for fanatic. The ability to harness the passion of sports, nationalism, and emotional pride in big achievement by warping it into validation for evil, war, rape, murder, crime, and corruption is apparently a big chapter in the bad leader, worse human manual.
So yeah, Russia needs to be cut out of the mix right now. No teams, no athletes, no competitions. Period, end of story until this horror ends. I know the reality though. The siren song of money and pull of corrupt influence will sway some more than doing the right thing. There is no other reason for why Russia, after all the failed drug tests and busted athletes, is even part of the Olympics as a competitor or nation member. The shambolic semantical games the IOC has played over the past few years to keep the Russians in the Olympics made that joke clear.
Individual athletes that are competing globally, like in the NHL or tennis, are a tougher call. While they are not directly tools of the state, they are still Russian and possibly somewhat controlled by the machinery. I would let them keep going, understanding they may be under duress from Russia. But if they openly support the aggression, man, I don’t know. Maybe they need to be blocked too.
This is why we are in such a mess in the sports world. We are all so tied together. Hard to untangle the knots and bank accounts.
What do you think?
Question 2: What was that about with Alexander Zverev’s slap on the wrist for his fit on the chair umpire. Seems like he is getting away with a lot. - Jeannie C.
Open Court: We’re lucky there wasn’t a murder…because Zverev lost his mind after dumping a first round doubles match at an ATP event in Acapulco.
He took three hard whacks at the umpire’s chair - close to the umpire’s feet - and then sat down and continued his vent with a barrage of profanity. One more whack came to the umpire’s chair. The racket was effectively smashed to bits, and was lovingly handed over to a kid by Zvevev. Here kid, take the stick I just threatened an official with - cool stuff! (irony font, 50 point)
He went off because he disagreed with a line call. Okie dokie.
Zverev was kicked out of the tournament, and forfeited the $40,000 prize money he had made. The ATP went weak in telling him that going after referees is bad… giving a behave your ass for a year and we will forget this happened suspended sentence. Zverev, who is German, won the 2021 Tokyo Olympics gold and is one of the tour’s top players with a slew of endorsers, was fined $25k - aka, the Euros he will collect between his couch cushions.
BUT HE SAID HE WAS SORRY!
“It is difficult to put into words how much I regret my behavior during and after the doubles match yesterday,” Zverev said, in a statement on his socials. “I have privately apologized to the chair umpire because my outburst towards him was wrong and unacceptable.”
Lovely. Sehr Gut. However, if I am a chair umpire, I see this as the ATP telling its best players they can literally get a free whack at me. Which is not good.
The interesting long shadow over this is the ongoing allegations of domestic violence against Zverev. Losing his shit on the umpire, which was an outburst not matching the umpire’s alleged sins, called that scary stuff into my head. Oh, now I see this anger.
Anyways. Good luck to the chair umps. It seems you may be on your own.
Question that has been answered!
What is going to happen to baseball if this labor strife continues? - Mark S.
Open Court: Mark! Happy news! The baseball overlords and the players are done arguing and have reached an agreement. Their drama was stupid, like just figure this out and stop sniping at each other through the media and social media please. I need spring training. I’m from Detroit, where seeing pitchers and catchers reporting to the Tigers home base of Lakeland, Florida brings me hope that my soul will soon be warm again. (And the most special treat, something that is still beautiful, is legendary Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell officially letting us know baseball is back.)
Thanks for the questions! And as always, fire them in anytime. Happy to discuss what is on your mind. Comments welcome too!
Coming up next week: What prompted me to get up at 4:30 a.m. and also visit a movie theatre for the first time in like three years. (Hint: Three letters). A report on some joy. And a check-in on the work of Figure Skating in Detroit.
Open Court publishes on Tuesdays and Fridays, bringing you the stuff we need to talk about with author and sports journalist Joanne C. Gerstner.
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