After various submissions that took the entire month of May and ran into the first few days of the French Open, the ITF’s adjudication panel ruled on the case of Ilie Nǎstase.
The Romanian former tennis star, who turned 71 Wednesday, is suspended from acting in an official capacity in all official ITF competitions until Dec. 31, 2020. He also cannot be accredited for any of them, or have access, until Dec. 31, 2018.
Nǎstase also was fined $10,000 US.
Notably, the ITF ruled that Grand Slam tournaments are “outside the jurisdiction of the ITF”. So if the individual majors want to offer him a tournament credential, that’s at their discretion.
That one is a bit of a headscratcher.
The decision is subject to appeal.
ITF decision finds middle ground
The ITF had asked for a ban on Nǎstase acting as Fed Cup captain for 5-10 years. It also asked for 1-3 year ban on attending ITF events and fine between $20,000-$30,000 US. Mandatory attendance at a diversity/racial awareness court could reduce his sanctions by up to 20 per cent.
Nǎstase, of course, called for much less.
The adjudication panel was comprised of Canadian ITF board member Jack Graham, Dr. Stuart Miller (head of the ITF’s anti-doping program) and Soeren Friemel (ITF head of officiating). The panel ended up somewhere in the middle.
There were six charges of breaching the “Welfare Policy”. Nǎstase was found guilty on four of them.
- Making comment about Serena Williams’s unborn child that may be interpreted as racist.
- Making advances of a sexual nature towards Anne Keothavong, the Captain of the Great Britain team.
- Entering, without authorization, the Great Britain Team Lounge. (not guilty)
- Making abusive and insulting comments to a member of the accredited press.
- Making abusive and offensive comments to the match officials and to members of the Great Britain team, refusing to leave the court, and inciting the crowd.
- Mr. Nǎstase’s conduct as a whole, in breach of the introduction to the Welfare Policy (the Overall Conduct Charge). (Did not rule)
The language he used towards the officials and opposing players on court during the incident was some kind of nasty – pardon the pun.
Nǎstase didn’t dispute any of the charges.
But he did provide what the ITF calls “context”.
Apology letters came late
The Romanian’s efforts at public apologies (including a request to have an apology note be read out to the crowd and the opposing team the day after the incident), and requesting that the flowers sent to the British team be presented on court), were considered by the ITF to be publicity stunts.
The ITF argued that Năstase’s comment about Serena Williams was “unethical, unprofessional, unacceptable, offensive, derogatory, and may be interpreted as racist. … Mr. Năstase’s cultural background does not excuse his comment. He has been in the public eye for most (if not all) of his adult life and so should have a broader understanding of culture.”
It didn’t accept as a mitigating factor Năstase’s context that “he comes from a nation where racism is not ‘as delicate an issue as it may be in other parts of the world’ “. It also didn’t accept his contention that “friendships and partnerships with contemporaries such as Arthur Ashe and Yannick Noah” were evidence of his lack of racist intent.
Keothavong comments out of “friendliness”
Năstase said that the fact that the sexual innuendo directed at pregnant British captain Anne Keothavong were made in public, “shows that they were intended as jokes to ‘reduce tension surrounding the Tie’ and to display a ‘friendliness’ towards the GB team.”
He testified that he only repeated the request because “he believed that it had been received by the audience (including Ms. Keothavong) as a joke.”
Năstase also testified that because Keothavong chose not to officially make a complaint, that signified she didn’t feel it was sexual harassment.
Media comments out of “frustration”
The Romanian said his aggressive comments towards the media, particularly towards British wire services reporter Eleanor Crooks, were “made in frustration and at a time of vulnerability, in response to a biased and exaggerated media coverage that was more interested in non‐tennis events, and following a tense discussion with the Referee and the on‐court incidents.”
He apologized the British team via typed letter a few days later.
And he apologized similarly to Williams, Keothavong and Crooks .
But those letters were received more than three weeks after the incident – and after the charges had been brought against him.
The ITF were not overly impressed. The fact that he gave an interview to the Daily Mirror saying he didn’t regret his behaviour probably didn’t help his case.
Năstase’s context for his remarks to the tie officials were that the comments “were precipitated by unequal treatment of the two teams (in favour of GB) by the match Umpire. He claimed his overall behaviour was “indicative of his well‐known unconventional humour and impulsive character rather than any wrongful intent. And Năstase also testified that “exaggerated and biased media reporting, by which he was characterized as a ‘provocateur’ and his reactions to events were exaggerated,” affected his composure.
The vice-president of the Romanian tennis federation, Razvan Itu, didn’t support Năstase’s “context” for the on-court behaviour. Năstase attributed it to tie referee Andreas Egli being ““nervous, provocative and intimidating.” But Itu testified that Egli had behaved perfectly appropriately.
Will Nastase appeal?
From the decision, it seems clear that he’s free to attend the French Open and/or Wimbledon again.
That, of course, assumes those tournaments extend him an invitation next year. They didn’t this year.
It’s unlikely he will ever be called to be Fed Cup captain again. And he probably has no plans to attend any ITF Pro Circuit event.
The ruling does not affect Năstase’s potential presence at ATP or WTA events. That was already in evidence, judging by his high profile at lifelong friend Ion Tiriac’s big joint tournament in Madrid just a few weeks later.