Nastase’s new gig: Czech diplomat

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In the “truth is stranger than fiction” department, embattled former Romanian tennis star Ilie Nastase is now … a diplomat.

Sort of.

Czech Republic foreign minister Lubomir Zaoralek announced Friday that the 71-year-old has agreed to become the country’s new honorary consul in Romania.

Associated Press reports he will be based in Constanta.

That is top Romanian player Simona Halep’s hometown – and the city where the drama during the Fed Cup tie against Great Britain occurred back in April.

The quotes from the foreign minister are epic.

“I trust Mr. Nastase. (In diplomacy) we have to weigh our words, and I think Mr. Nastase is fully aware of that,” Zaoralek said.  “I am sure that his transfer from sports to diplomacy will be successful because I can see him as (a) person who realizes the responsibility he has in the new function.”

Nastase took the opportunity to throw a little shade on his own country, weighing his words most carefully – and diplomatically – from the get-go.

“It’s a great honor,” Nastase said. “My country didn’t give me this chance, but you gave me this chance, and I appreciate it.”

Unpaid position for Nasty

Despite how it may sound, “honorary consul” isn’t exactly a true diplomatic position. It’s more ceremonial than anything, although there are duties involved and no doubt a few perks.

From the website for the honorary consul general for Hungary in Vancouver, Canada:

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For example, there are 24 such Czech honorary consuls in the U.S. Most recently, one was named just for the region of South Florida.  Stanislav Jansta is a university accounting professor.

The country’s representative in Orlando, Fla. is Roman Inochovsky. On his LinkedIn profile, Inochovsky self-describes as a “discreet and trusted advisor to global C-suite executives, ultra high net worth (UHNW) families, and global investors.”

Honorary consuls often are expected to make official statements about weighty matters, though. But sometimes, they just have to plant trees.

Nastase was given a suspension from ITF events, not including the Grand Slams. That is subject to appeal, and Nastase reportedly is appealing it.

The announcement was made, coincidentally or not, on the first day of the Laver Cup, which is taking place in Prague. 

Nastase was expected to make an appearance at the event, which obviously is not subject to any restrictions he may have regarding ITF-sanctioned events.

Is the military garb in order?

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Fine, suspension for Nastase

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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.

  1. Making comment about Serena Williams’s unborn child that may be interpreted as racist.
  2. Making advances of a sexual nature towards Anne Keothavong, the Captain of the Great Britain team.
  3. Entering, without authorization, the Great Britain Team Lounge. (not guilty)
  4. Making abusive and insulting comments to a member of the accredited press.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.   

NastaseThe 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.”

NastaseHe 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.

Click here to read the full decision.

 

Defiant Tiriac adds friend Nastase to Madrid ceremony

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The International Tennis Federation, Wimbledon and the French Open sent a clear message that his disgraced lifelong friend Ilie Nastase is persona non grata in tennis right now.

But Ion Tiriac was having none of it.

That’s the thing about being a multi-gazillionaire. You don’t have to let anyone tell you what to do, even when the right thing to do is a no-brainer.

The tone-deaf Mutua Madrid Open tournament owner decided his friend Nastase would be part of the trophy ceremony when their fellow Romanian, Simona Halep, defended her women’s singles title Saturday night.

At least, we have to assume it came from Tiriac. It’s unlikely anyone else in the organization would make that kind of call.

Optics couldn’t be worse for the WTA

And so there Nastase was, big as life, despite the WTA-run international television feed’s best efforts not to show him.

That the 70-year-old would put himself in a place where he didn’t belong, and wasn’t supposed to be, just speaks to the obliviousness that comes with being revered your entire life merely for playing a sport very well. That, and being 70 years old and not really giving a darn.

Tiriac made this call even though WTA Tour apparently revoked Nastase’s credential privileges while the now-infamous events during the Fed Cup tie in Constanta, Romania against Great Britain were being investigated.  

Did you know the WTA had revoked his credential privileges?

Neither did we.

To make that common knowledge earlier in the game would have been a strong, necessary statement in support of the women that make up its organization, given how execrable Nastase’s treatment was of several its members last month during Fed Cup.

As well, it would have been a strong statement of support for its biggest star, Serena Williams, who received a personal dose of Nastase “love”.

Somehow, though, that credential revocation memo didn’t get much play, if there was a memo at all. The first most heard of it came with this statement, issued after it was all over on Saturday.

Tiriac

Nastase had been around the tournament all week as a guest of Tiriac, his friend of long standing and former partner in crime on the tennis court. Perhaps the WTA wasn’t watching. That’s always possible, given the tour’s matches still aren’t streamed online.

Or perhaps they did, and protested. And Tiriac replied, ‘My tournament, my guest. Whatcha gonna do about it?”

Romanian royalty

For the women’s final, Nastase sat with Tiriac in his loge. With them was Nadia Comaneci, another Romanian sporting icon. That she was there sitting next to him wasn’t a shock. As the premier sportswoman in her country, her denouncement of Nastase’s behaviour in Constanta was, well, tepid.

Tiriac

Sitting courtside for the final wasn’t enough, though. Nastase had to be front and centre during the trophy ceremony.

Clearly that must have been the gist of the extended conversation between Tiriac and Halep before the ceremony.

Perhaps he asked her if she was okay with it – perhaps. But what could she possibly say to the man who first gave her a wild card into this major tournament, who has been hugely supportive during her career, about a situation involving an icon in their country?

Uncomfortable spot for Halep

Maybe she was just fine with having him there. Who knows? But it put Halep in an awkward position – once again. Because her defense of Nastase after he did some pretty indefensible things during Fed Cup – in her hometown, no less – was awkward enough.

The tournament is a joint ATP-WTA event. So Tiriac easily could have his great friend around all week without technically running afoul of the WTA’s directive. Assuming that directive would have cut any ice with him at all.

Whether or not Halep wanted Nastase there is fairly moot.  When your own organization refuses to credential someone – even your friend – the way take a stand against that directive is not to do something like this on such a public stage.

Great tennis overshadowed 

One thing is certain: the presence of her embattled countryman, and her public embrace of him, completely overshadowed Halep’s shining moment.

Having Comaneci up there would have been Romanian representation enough, no? Assuming there needed to be any. The tournament took place in Spain.

Tiriac in the catbird’s seat

You wonder if Nastase would have been up there had Halep lost the final.

Probably not. Imagine if she had played Great Britain’s Johanna Konta in the final instead of France’s Kristina Mladenovic. Actually, that’s unimaginable.

The aftermath took the focus off what was an outstanding, hard-fought, high-quality women’s match at a tournament where crowds for the women’s matches are typically sparse. That included even this Saturday night finale; the Caja Majica was far from full.

Despite the more than $5.4 million in prize money on offer in Madrid, the women are often an afterthought – as is sadly the case at many of the joint ATP-WTA events.

Halep escapes potential sanction

There was one moment that could have proven very tricky. An annoyed Halep kicked her racquet away – and it glanced off one of the “ball men” running along the back of the court doing his job. 

It was, potentially, a default-worthy offense. But Halep had a feckless umpire in Mariana Alves, who merely issued an unsportsmanlike conduct warning. Well, let’s call Alves practical; imagine how Tiriac and Nastase would have reacted had she defaulted their countrywoman. 

One thing you know: it’s a lot less likely Tiriac would have defied the ATP Tour in a similar situation. And that’s a statement in itself. He can easily say to the WTA, “So, you don’t want my $5.4 million in prize money and this great platform to show off your product? Fine, go find it somewhere else – if you can.”

In the end, Tiriac is the one who had all the leverage here. And he used it.

What are they going to do to punish him for this “transgression”? Issue him a big fine? He could probably pull enough change from between the seat cushions in his Caja Majica office to cover it.

All in all, it was not one of the better days for the WTA in recent months. And that’s saying something.

No French Open credential for Nastase

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Following Wimbledon’s lead, the French Tennis Federation announced Saturday it will not give Ilie Nastase a tournament credential this year.

The FFT didn’t indicate if the 70-year-old Romanian might be stopped from entering the premises at all – as Wimbledon has decided.

It’s possible he can just acquire a ticket and walk in.  Nastase’s lifelong partner in crime Ion Tiriac has a private box on Court Philippe Chatrier. So you’d have to think this one isn’t over. Because the man can’t take a hint.

The latest snub might actually hurt Nastase a lot more than his banishment from the All-England Club.  

Nastase won the French Open in 1973 without dropping a set. He also was a finalist in 1971.

France Nastase’s adopted home

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Nastase at the 2008 French Open legends invitational. John McEnroe was on court as well, so there were antics. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

He speaks fluent French (not unlike many Romanians as, unlike other eastern European languages, Romanian is a romance language and bears striking similarities to both French and Italian).

Nastase was made a chevalier (knight) of France’s Légion d’honneur in 2009, for his “impressive sporting career” and “sense of spectacle”. Then-ambassador Henri Paul presented the award to him in Bucharest.

“The French public, because of your fluency, and your relaxed and friendly relationship with it, has adopted you and loves you,” Paul said at the time.

“This medal comes from a country that isn’t my own, but that I love,” Nastase said. 

Nastase even wrote a couple of books in French back in the 80s.

Nastase
Nastase loves Roland Garros, but it won’t love him back this year. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

One was called “Tiebreak” – a “roman à clef” murder mystery about a few people on the tennis circuit whose names were changed – to protect the guilty. It was translated into English, as well.

We’ll see if this latest snub makes it all finally hit home for Nastase.

He has chosen to go on the attack so far, rather than show any sense of contrition. It makes for good copy. But in the end, only makes him look like an oblivious old fool who just doesn’t get it.