Tennis

U.S. Open wheelchair tennis champ slams 'disgusting discrimination' of event's exclusion

Australian Paralympic tennis champion Dylan Alcott has slammed the omission of the wheelchair tournament from the U.S. Open, calling it "disgusting discrimination."

Australian Dylan Alcott says players were not consulted

Dylan Alcott, seen celebrating his quad wheelchair singles win at the Australian Open in February, has called out the U.S. Open for omitting wheelchair tennis from this year's tournament scheduled to begin at the end of August. (Lee Jin-man/The Associated Press)

Australian Paralympic tennis champion Dylan Alcott has slammed the omission of the wheelchair tournament from the U.S. Open, calling it "disgusting discrimination."

Alcott, who won the 2015 and 2018 wheelchair singles titles at Flushing Meadows and is the reigning doubles champion, said players were not consulted and posed no greater health threat than able-bodied entrants.

With the coronavirus still rife in the United States, the Aug. 31-Sept 13 U.S. Open is going ahead without fans or a qualifying tournament for able-bodied players.

"I thought I did enough to qualify - 2x champion, number 1 in the world," Alcott wrote on Twitter. "But unfortunately I missed the only thing that mattered, being able to walk. Disgusting discrimination."

The organizers have also eliminated the mixed doubles and juniors competitions while reducing the number of teams in men's and women's doubles events by half.

Tournament director Stacey Allaster said organizers are providing $3.3 million US each to the men's ATP Tour and the women's WTA in relief grants and subsidies.

"We had to make the really difficult decision that that extra load of the number of bodies that is in the multiples was outside something we felt we could handle ultimately to mitigate the risk and the health and well-being for all," she told reporters on a video conference.

The International Tennis Federation (ITF), the governing body of wheelchair tennis, said it "understands and shares the disappointment" caused by the decision.

"We continue to discuss with the organizers potential approaches that could allow the Wheelchair Tennis competition to take place either on or off site," the ITF said in a statement.

International Paralympic Committee responds

Later Thursday, International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons released a statement urging organizers to reconsider the decision. 

"We appreciate that the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown up multiple challenges for sport event organizers all around the world, but such challenges should not be used as an excuse to discriminate against a group of players and not offer inclusive competition for all," the statement reads.

"There has been tremendous progress in recent years to advance wheelchair tennis and promote inclusion, not least by USTA and at the U.S. Open. However, just as we cannot have a situation where athletes are barred from a sporting events on the grounds of race, gender, nationality or sexuality, they should not be stopped from competing because they play in a wheelchair.

Alcott , from Melbourne, has won 10 wheelchair Grand Slam singles titles and took the singles and doubles gold at the 2016 Paralympic Games at Rio.

"And please do not tell me I am a 'greater risk' because I am disabled," the 29-year-old wrote.

"I am disabled yes but that does not make me SICK.

"It is blatant discrimination for able bodied people to decide on my behalf what I do with my LIFE AND CAREER just because I am disabled. Not good enough," he wrote.

Tennis Australia offers support 

Tennis Australia offered their support to Alcott as well over his disappointment at the wheelchair events being cut from the U.S. Open. 

"Dylan Alcott is a tremendous ambassador for tennis and has done a huge amount for our sport both here and around the world," Tennis Australia chief executive Craig Tiley said of the Paralympic champion in a statement on Friday.

"We understand how disappointed he is at not being able to compete at the U.S. Open this year and we look forward to seeing him back on the court soon."

Tennis Australia said they were optimistic of running a full program at January's Australian Open.

"In terms of our plans for the Australian Open ... we're optimistic about having an AO in January with all the events and all the players," Tiley added.

"We empathize with our U.S. Open counterparts who have put an enormous amount of work into staging their event during such difficult circumstances and in these unprecedented times."

With files from CBC Sports

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