Rafael Nadal has launched a withering broadside at the Spanish tennis federation after its president was suspended pending a financial investigation, adding to the sense of disarray enveloping the organisation as a result of the controversy surrounding Gala León’s appointment as the country’s first female Davis Cup captain.
Breaking off from his preparations for Wimbledon, where he will face the Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci in the opening round, Nadal fulminated at length about the plight of Spanish tennis, which he said had become embroiled in a relentless media circus that threatened to damage the sport’s image, discourage participation and deter sponsors.
“The situation is terrible,” said Nadal, whose 14 grand slams include two Wimbledon titles. “We’ve put on a show but to me the spectacle we’ve seen lately is awful. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no way that Spanish tennis deserves this after the last 20 years, when we’ve practically been on top even though we’re not a very big country. This ugly and continuous media show is damaging tennis.
“Everything that’s happening is hurting tennis; it’s hurting sponsors’ enthusiasm when it comes to investing in our sport and it’s hurting the dreams of the kids who want to carry on playing. The situation over the past nine months is totally inexplicable and even today I struggle to fathom the reason for this accumulation of negative things. That drive to want, want, want has brought things to an uncomfortable pass that should never have been reached.”
Nadal’s comments follow the decision this week by the Tribunal Administrativo del Deporte (TAD), the Spanish government’s disciplinary committee for sport, to suspend José Luis Escañuela for a month while the accounts of the Real Federación Española de Tenis are investigated.
The Consejo Superior de Deportes, the Spanish sports council, will lead the inquiry, which concerns the whereabouts of at least €700,000 (£497,000) paid by the federation to the Spanish Tennis Foundation, a non-profit organisation founded in 2010 to develop the sport, and the Spanish Tennis Observatory, a research collaboration with Pablo de Olavide University in Seville.
According to the TAD, an audit of documentation held at the Spanish federation’s headquarters in Barcelona has been blocked by the organisation for more than a year. There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by Escañuela, who will be replaced on a temporary basis by the Spanish federation’s vice-president, Olvido Aguilera.
The investigation marks a fresh blow for the Spanish federation, which has been embroiled in a dispute with its players since León, the former world No27, succeeded Carlos Moyá as the country’s Davis Cup captain.
Moyá stood down as captain after defeat by Brazil last September resulted in Spain’s relegation from the competition’s top tier for the first time in almost two decades.
Toni Nadal, Rafael’s coach and uncle, expressed reservations about the decision when it was announced, pointing out León has no track record in men’s tennis. His comments were branded sexist by Spanish politicians but Spanish players including Nadal, David Ferrer, Feliciano López and Tommy Robredo have all voiced doubts about the appointment.
Nadal described the decision as strange at the time, saying: “I don’t have anything against her but usually being nominated as the Davis Cup captain was a prize after a great career, and there are many players who had fantastic careers and haven’t served as captain yet.”
The feeling among many of the players who have helped Spain to five Davis Cup victories since the turn of the century is that Juan Carlos Ferrero – like Moyá a former French Open winner and world No1 – should have been given a chance.
Spain will face Russia at Vladivostok’s Fetisov Arena on 17-19 July in a match they must win if they are to make a swift return to the world group. Nadal has not indicated as yet whether he will play, but his searing assessment of Spain’s plight would suggest it is unlikely.
“A country with many players in the top 100 should not be in the second division and shouldn’t have to find itself in the situation that probably lies ahead in the qualifier against Russia,” he said at Wimbledon.
“Personally, I find it sad and annoying that things should be this way.
“The Spanish tennis federation doesn’t mean a thing to us; we don’t depend on the federation. We’ve never played the Davis Cup for money. We’ve played it because we wanted to; because of the positive atmosphere that captains, players and teams have created over many years – from the doctors to the guys who string the rackets. That’s what has supported us so much and allowed this team to be successful.”
While the players have assured León that they are not opposed to her appointment on grounds of gender, she has come out fighting in response to the debate over her suitability as captain.
León has even suggested she is “an icon in many countries but just not our own”, a remark that prompted the 70th-ranked Spaniard Marcel Granollers to tweet: “I didn’t know that Gala León was an icon in many countries. Can anyone tell me which ones?”
Nadal must hope his impassioned contribution to a debate he also mentioned during the French Open will not be interpreted by his rivals as a sign he is distracted as he attempts to put a faltering season back on track in SW19.
This article was written by Les Roopanarine, for theguardian.com on Sunday 28th June 2015 15.56 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010