Bethanie Mattek-Sands: Human rights boycott by US tennis star ‘good thing’

Bethanie Mattek-Sands (left) won the 2017 French Open title after Li Na retired

Former US diplomat Stuart Eizenstat says a boycott of the WTA Tour by one of the game’s star attractions over human rights is now a good thing.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands, 34, withdrew from the Sydney International because of complications from a hip injury.

Her hopes of returning to form came to an end when it was revealed she has lived in an apartment owned by an owner facing bribery charges.

Mattek-Sands and former world number one Maria Sharapova, 29, are human rights champions, according to Eizenstat.

Mattek-Sands confirmed on Monday that she will play only events that “suit her.”

She said she had told the WTA before her retirement, in late 2017, that she would not play in countries with judicial systems that “unduly restrict people’s right to freedom of religion, association or expression”.

Mattek-Sands and Sharapova have been vocal in their condemnation of the anti-doping lab in Moscow.

Mattek-Sands said she would need to consult with the WTA about her future in January as she tries to recover from the hip injury that forced her to withdraw from last month’s Australian Open.

The former US Open champion had hip surgery after being hospitalised in January 2018 following a fall at a tennis tournament.

The WTA says that it follows the Miami Code of Conduct, which does not discriminate on the basis of religion, gender, race, sexual orientation or nationality.

The “guidelines” are outlined in a November 2018 statement, which does not specifically reference Mattek-Sands’ case.

But Eizenstat, who helped negotiate America’s transition to the World Trade Organisation in the 1990s, said the WTA now has the opportunity to change its stance and become a “leader in defence of human rights.”

“This incident may represent one of the first public tests of whether the WTA genuinely gives adequate consideration to the human rights of its most important talent, players,” he told BBC Sport.

“If the WTA acts in good faith and obtains a satisfactory understanding of what happened and establishes a policy to protect any player in similar circumstances, it could be a bright light shining brightly on the way tennis and sports generally should be viewed by the world.

“From the perspective of the athlete, doing this could be a very good thing.”

The WTA pointed out that Mattek-Sands “expressly” stated in her contract that she did not support boycotts of the Tour.

Mattek-Sands cited an “adversarial US judicial system” for her troubles, with her accommodation linked to Tel Aviv landlord Dany Aharoni, who is among those accused of corruption.

A WTA spokesman added: “If a player feels that a country’s legal system acts against their human rights, or restricts their right to religious or expression, they are free to express that opinion publicly or in writing.

“All WTA member athletes enjoy a free and open communication between the Tour and players through our player forums, the press release, and athlete forums.”

Rafael Nadal had called for Mattek-Sands to be banned for life in January 2017 after her positive test for meldonium at the US Open in 2016.

Sharapova was banned for two years from 1 January 2016, while several other players, including Nadal, had been refused re-entry to the Tour for a year after losing an appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Sharapova has not played since the Australian Open because of her return to a reduced suspension.

Sharapova’s first Grand Slam since her ban is the French Open, which begins on 27 May.

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