Djokovic under pressure to quit ATP role after Adria Tour fiasco
Novak Djokovic, the world’s number one male tennis player, is facing calls to step down as the head of the ATP Player Council over his role in the organisation of a controversial exhibition series in the Balkans, at which there have been multiple positive tests for coronavirus.
The Serb and his wife Jelena yesterday became the latest individuals to test positive from the Adria Tour, prompting a full apology from the 17-time grand slam winner.
The final of the latest event in Zadar in Croatia on Sunday was cancelled after world number 19 Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria tested positive for Covid-19.
Two other players, Borna Coric of Croatia and Viktor Troicki of Serbia, have also contracted the virus as have Dimitrov’s coach and Djokovic’s fitness trainer.
The participating players, including those who have not tested positive, and their associates are now self-isolating.
The Adria Tour was to have comprised four charity events with spectators, in Belgrade in Serbia, Zadar, Montenegro and Banja Luka in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
However, the competition in Montenegro was cancelled, and the Bosnia event has now been called off too.
There was criticism over the lack of social distancing measures at the two tournaments that were held, with the players seen hugging after matches, playing contact sports including soccer and basketball between contests and some filmed dancing together in a nightclub in Belgrade.
The saga has also raised concerns over the planned resumption of the ATP Tour and the women's WTA Tour in August, as well as the US Open, which is set to take place, behind closed doors, starting at the end of that month.
In a statement yesterday, a repentant Djokovic said: “Everything we did in the past month, we did with a pure heart and sincere intentions. Our tournament was meant to unite and share a message of solidarity and compassion throughout the region. The Tour has been designed to help both established and up and coming tennis players from south-eastern Europe to gain access to some competitive tennis while the various tours are on hold due to Covid-19.
“It was born with a philanthropic idea, to direct all raised funds towards people in need and it warmed my heart to see how everybody strongly responded. We organised the tournament when the virus had weakened, believing the conditions for hosting the Tour had been met.
“Unfortunately, this virus is still present, and it is a new reality we are learning to cope and live with. I am hoping things will ease with time so we can all resume lives the way they were. I am extremely sorry for each individual case of infection. I hope it will not complicate anyone's health situation and everyone will be fine.”
Despite his apology, Djokovic has come in for heavy criticism for proceeding with the events, with the often outspoken Australian player Nick Kyrgios saying on Twitter: “Prayers up to all the players that have contracted Covid-19. Don't @ me for anything I've done that has been 'irresponsible' or classified as 'stupidity' - this takes the cake.”
The UK’s Andy Murray, who is presently competing in the behind-closed-doors Schroders Battle of the Brits in London, said of the Adria Tour: “In hindsight, it’s not something that should have gone ahead. It’s not surprising how many people have tested positive after seeing some of the images of the players’ party and the kids’ day. There was no social distancing in place.”
Others have gone further, calling for Djokovic to resign as the head of the ATP Player Council.
Australian sports commentator Peter FitzSimons described the Serb’s position as “totally untenable,” adding: “You cannot be the one representing the players saying, ‘we players have got to do the right thing’, when you demonstrably have done absolutely the wrong thing.”
Djokovic has been an influential presence in the running of the ATP in recent years, with he and other senior players believed to have played a key role in the decision not to renew the contract of executive chairman and president Chris Kermode who left the organisation at the end of last year.
The ATP leadership is now split between chairman Andrea Gaudenzi and chief executive Massimo Calvelli.