by Mauro Cappiello
At the end of last month, the nominees for the 2011 ATP Sportsmanship Award were made, so it will be Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi who will contend for the prestigious prize that was named after Stefan Edberg, once he retired from professional tennis back in 1996. With a disputable choice, the ATP decided to name a player unknown by large audiences like Pakistan’s doubles specialist Qureshi, together with three of the top four guys in the world singles ranking. But, even though his name won’t mean much to sporadic tennis followers and even though he will probably be overwhelmed by the other three contenders in the votations made by fellow members of the ATP World Tour, STE…fans wants to back Qureshi as the only deserving winner of the Award.
A career devoted to sports and peace
Considered he’s not an elite player, the 31-year-old man from Pakistan has done in terms of sportsmanship through the years (and not only in 2011) much more than what the other players have done combined. Through his sport, he’s gone beyond prejudice and discrimination from his country, promoting tennis as a mean for overcoming political barriers among different nations, which is the supreme way of “conducting at the highest level of professionalism and with the utmost spirit of fairness”, as specified in the award motivation.
After turning professional in 1998, Qureshi first came in the news in 2002, when he decided to partner Israeli Amir Hadad in Wimbledon and US Open doubles tournaments, despite the “cold relationships” that have always run between their two countries. This earned him and his doubles mate an Artur Ash Humanitarian of the Year Award for 2002. A prize that Qureshi also won last year, together with his current doubles partner, Indian Rohan Bopanna (by the way, where is his nominee for the 2011 Edberg Award?), another player from a country Pakistan has stormy relationships with.
In 2010, Aisam and Rohan have created a campaign, Stop War Start Tennis, with the aim of playing a tennis match in Wagah, on the border joining India and Pakistan, with both players on either side of the border.
The “Sportsmanship Award” is not the “Player of the Year Award”
There’s no need to add more to indicate Qureshi not only as the ideal winner of the award for this year, but also as the man who could reverse a trend that, in recent years, has seen the ATP give the prize not to the real sportsman of the year, but to the player with the best results in the season.
This has clearly happened in 2009 and 2010, for example, when Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal respectively have been voted “Sportsman of the Year”, when, in our humble opinion, they wouldn’t have either deserved a nominee. And let me remind you that, if it’s the other players who vote the winner, it’s the ATP who makes the nominees.
At the same time, it’s quite strange that, since 2004, the prize has gone to the year-end number one or two. Is it really so hard to find a true sportsman out of the top of men’s tennis? In our opinion, it’s a scandal that sportsmen like Mardy Fish and Andy Roddick didn’t get a nominee. Still they are American, so from a nation that gets high visibility, and are ranked or have been ranked in the top ten.
The impression is that the ATP is using this award to pump up the popularity of the most prominent players rather than to promote the fair spirit of tennis and positive behaviors by its protagonists, in and off court.
We strongly believe that there should be an episode or a series of episodes to justify the nominee for a certain year and this has not happened recently.
In these two videos, you can see Roger Federer smash a racquet in frustration in Miami and speak roughly to the chair umpire in the US Open final against Juan Martin Del Potro.
Those episodes both happened in 2009, when he was voted “Sportsman of the year”, overcoming the nominees of Ivan Ljubicic, Jarkko Nieminem and Carlos Moya. Generally speaking, Roger Federer is certainly a sportsman who has done a lot for tennis, in and off-court. He also has Stefan Edberg’s endorsement. After the two met last year in Stockholm, Stefan said: «He's very smooth and easygoing, so I think he's a great, great, great guy for tennis in general, I think both on and off the court». But, the fact that he is named every year, even when he doesn’t deserve it, just because he is Roger Federer, is ridiculous.
This other video shows Rafael Nadal vividly contest a decision by the umpire at the London ATP World Tour Finals, after the Hawk-Eye had shown his indication of a ball out was wrong.
Earlier in Wimbledon, he was (rightly) accused by his third round opponent Philipp Petzschner of requesting a “strategic” medical time out when down two sets to one. Both episodes happened in 2010, when the Spaniard was voted “Sportsman of the Year”, overcoming the nominees of Marin Cilic (?), Taylor Dent and Roger Federer.
None of us who witnessed Stefan Edberg’s career needs to be reminded that Stefan never talked roughly to an umpire, never smashed a racquet in anger and never used a medical time out to escape a difficult score situation. That’s why the Sportsmanship Award was named after him and that’s why it should never be delivered to a player committing one of the above during a tennis season.Vote for your 2011 Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award winner»
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