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Too Many Rules: Erakovic, the ITF and the NZOC

May 28, 2012

New Zealand is a nation that prides itself on hard, honest work and a lack of airs and graces. New Zealanders are innovative and modest, people who don’t like to blow their own trumpet too much lest it upset their friendly next door neighbour. Humbleness comes as naturally as the fertile land they sow, and anyone with a big head about them are cast out as quickly as a losing All Blacks coach. Money is kept close and those that splash out are looked at with a suspicious eye. Designer clothes and red carpet events don’t come naturally to New Zealanders. Just look at Peter Jackson.

Which is why it made sense to New Zealand when last year their Fed Cup team pulled out of a tie they were due to play against Thailand. New Zealand’s top players Marina Erakovic and Sasha Jones (who has now moved to Australia) made themselves unavailable for the tie. Travelling to Thailand was going to cost Tennis NZ a lot of money, and without their top players, they had no chance of winning. Tennis New Zealand figured those precious dollars would be better off spent elsewhere. After all, they’re not exactly a powerhouse of international tennis rolling in cash. What they didn’t expect was that Marina Erakovic would catapult herself into the top 40 by June this year, giving herself a very real shot at the Olympics.

The ITF didn’t take kindly to New Zealand’s late withdrawal and issued the country with a one year ban from the competition. Whilst it seemed insignificant at the time, it now means Erakovic is ineligible to compete at this years Olympic Games as she has not filled ITF requirements. The ITF stipulates that  in order for to be eligible for the Olympics, a player must have made themselves available for Davis Cup or Fed Cup in two of the four years of an Olympic cycle, with one of those years being 2011 or 2012. Due to New Zealand’s ban, Erakovic was unable to play Fed Cup this year and therefore could not met requirements.

Tennis NZ intend to seek a dispensation from the ITF, but even with that Erakovic’s participation is still in doubt as the New Zealand Olympic Commitee have been unable to confirm Erakovic’s selection. The top 56 players in the world are granted automatic entry to the Olympic games, but it comes down who the NZOC want to send. For Erakovic, it will be a bitter disappointment if the ITF or the NZOC do not allow her to play. Not only has she fought back from injury to push her ranking back up to the top 40, she’s got so much potential her coach recently likened her to Sam Stosur. “Marina has a forehand that can knock your arse off so to speak but she just doesn’t use it much and it’s a matter of confidence and believing in it. I think Marina’s game is going to end up being very similar to Sam Stosur; the big difference is Marina volleys a lot better,” he predicted.

It seems ludicrous that the ITF would prevent Erakovic from competing because of a decision made by Tennis NZ last year. It would be even more tragic should her own country turn her down the opportunity to represent New Zealand in the Olympic Games.

I’ve never really understood why Davis Cup and Fed Cup are requirements for the Olympics; they’re completely different competitions with varying levels of importance for different players. In this case, I believe players should be able to play what they want. I may have said in my last post that politics and sport should mix, but in this case let’s hope they stay as far away from each other as possible and Erakovic is allowed her ticket to London.

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