‘Secret society’ of tennis referees living under the reign of fear, abuse of power and sexual favors

The case for a new umpiring regime is presented today by Andrew Jarrett, the Englishman who was one of Friemel’s predecessors as ITF umpiring chief, while also serving as Wimbledon umpire between 2006 and 2019.

“The recent investigation of a QC [into Friemel’s behaviour] and the ITF’s subsequent announcement was not a huge surprise,” Jarrett told the Telegraph in an email. “World tennis and the officials who work in it deserve better governance. This is now an opportunity to make changes to a system that has been broken for a long time.”

‘We have to break the system’

Friemel’s case attracted worldwide interest when the Telegraph first reported it on February 3. Friemel, a 50-year-old German, was suspended for 12 months in connection with four incidents involving the same referee between 2011 and 2015, according to an ITF spokesman. , “The problem was the situation of imbalance of power.”

Now the Telegraph may reveal that similar accusations had previously been made against another prominent tennis official, who cannot be named for legal reasons. This second case is widely known within the world of arbitration, but has never been made public, due to the confidentiality agreements used in what one informant called “a compromise exit”.

According to a senior tennis administrator, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the fact that two similar instances have emerged from the closed world of refereeing is evidence of the need for change.

“The letter needs to be reviewed,” said the administrator. “We just have to accept that it’s not right. No tape needed. We have to break everything.”

Other former officials have told the Telegraph that abuses of various kinds have been taking place in secret for decades. Patronage networks develop because power is concentrated in the hands of a small number of individuals. Junior officials have every reason to want to curry favor with their superiors.

“In my day, it was a well-known fast track to your career if you were open to using your body to further your career,” said Martin Wikstrom, a Swede who was a chair umpire in the early 2000s before becoming a umpire. a successful business executive. “When you look at some of the officials who came in, let’s say 10 years from now, there was no way they would have, if the decision was based solely on their competence.”

Friemel’s suspension is unusual in that it came into the public domain, unlike previous scandals. Refereeing’s culture of silence begins with the Code of Conduct signed by all referees, which states that “at no time shall they participate in media interviews or meetings with journalists… without the approval of the supervisor/referees.” In practice, this approval is rarely given. And without any means for younger and less experienced officials to make their voices heard, they become vulnerable to exploitation.

“Officials are afraid to speak up,” said Richard Ings, who was the ATP’s chief officiating from 2001 to 2005, as well as the world’s highest-ranked chair umpire in the late 1990s. a reporter about anything that’s going on behind the scenes, even anonymously, their bosses will look up who gave that information. If they find out who talked, or maybe they just get suspicious, they don’t even have to file a Code of Conduct charge. They just can’t select that person for the next job. People quickly get the message and a wall of silence forms.”

‘Your face needs to adapt’

If the refereeing world ran smoothly on its own terms, its introspective nature wouldn’t be much of an issue. But the promotion of officials is a subjective matter, further complicated by an apparently dysfunctional structure.

As a former Grand Slam umpire told the Telegraph, “The structure is a legacy from the start of the Open era of tennis in 1968. The tours needed to provide first-class umpiring for their events. But this meant that we ended up with three different organizations, each with their own officials. It’s a horrible result because you end up with each group protecting their own patch.”

The ITF employs nine full-time officials, the Professional Tennis Players Association nine and the Women’s Tennis Association seven, plus five more in a ‘development’ category.

Chair umpires start with a white badge and then earn promotions through the top three categories: bronze, silver, and gold. Their actions are evaluated by the referees of the band immediately superior to them, which presents an immediate conflict of interest. A former gold-badge referee told the Telegraph that his team-mates had encouraged him not to score too generously.

At the end of each year, a five-person “reevaluation panel” meets. The panel, which is made up of the umpiring chiefs on the three tours, plus a representative from the Grand Slam events and an independent observer, decides who should move up the hierarchy and who should move down, in a process many believe to be flawed. . .

“It’s a boys’ club,” said a silver-badged referee. “They manage brands to keep people in certain positions. The organizations know who they want and then the year-end meeting is a negotiation, an exchange. If you let us have our person, we’ll let you have yours. They order the grades they want, raise them for the favored, penalize others by ignoring the good things.

“Supervisors and judges have the flexibility to write reports any way they want. It is not transparent. It is not neutral. Gold-badge umpires,” of which there are 33, “come in 50 shades of gold. Some have half the draw on their ‘Not List’, while others can handle all comers. [The ‘No List’ comprises the players whose matches an umpire is kept away from, because of previous run-ins.]”

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