Tennis chiefs are preparing to introduce compulsory education courses covering “inappropriate” player relationships before allowing coaches to work with professional women’s players.
The announcement, which was made the day after Pam Shriver disclosed her own damaging relationship with a much older coach, was made by the WTA chairman and chief executive Steve Simon.
Shriver was just 17 at the start of her five-year relationship with Don Candy, a coach who was a 42-year-old former Grand Slam winner when she first met him as a nine-year-old for a tennis lesson in Baltimore.
Shriver wrote that she still believes “abusive coaching relationships are alarmingly common in sport as a whole”, a sentiment that instantly chimed with many other high-profile sporting figures.
Anne Keothavong, Great Britain’s Billie Jean King Cup Captain, warned that it was “a problem that hasn’t gone away and isn’t going away” and was something she had discussed with the British players in Prague last weekend, when a team spearheaded by Emma Raducanu were beaten 3-2 by the Czech Republic.
Simon is now planning to mandate programs of education for coaches and members of player support teams, ideally from the start of 2022.
“Based upon what they’re coming into the environment as…there’ll be different forms of education that they’re going to have to go through, to make them aware of the issues and the concerns in this space, before they can be accredited,” he told The Tennis Podcast. “So it’s a program we’re working on. It’s not complete yet, but we hope to have it implemented, hopefully, as early as the start of next year.”
Sports coaching generally must also include more women, according to former sports minister Tracey Crouch.
“While grooming and abuse is not exclusive to girls, a lot of teams and environments these young female players are surrounded by are made up of middle-aged men,” she said. “Is that right? We need to ensure there are more women involved in coaching tennis to help end this culture Pam Shriver describes. I hope Pam Shriver’s story will go a way to ending the culture of silence on this issue, and will see tennis authorities consider it a priority to solve.”
‘Young girls tend only to ever be coached by men’
Naomi Cavaday, a leading former British player, also highlighted how coaching is so male-dominated and the insecure nature of player-coach relationships.
“This insecurity increases the chance of coaches overstepping professional boundaries,” she said. “If the coach creates an emotional connection or attachment with the player, then that player will find it much harder to fire them. You can end up with close personal relationships, often involving a much older man.
“It’s a very complex and confusing position for both parties. Some coaches will be tempted to exploit the situation consciously. Others might not intend for things to develop, emotionally, but it still happens.
“These young girls tend only to ever be coached by men. Many of the coaches, too, would benefit from education, from understanding some of these issues, because they don’t always intend to find themselves in these situations either.”
Another MP, Sarah Champion, also warned that Shriver’s experience would not be isolated. Shriver stressed that she was not abused sexually – “clearly, he [Candy] wasn’t a predator” – but that she does feel like there was emotional abuse. Shriver, now 59, said the relationship ended in 1984 when she was 22. Candy died in 2020, aged 91. “Sadly, Pam Shriver’s case is not a one-off and we cannot continue to be shocked each time another survivor bravely comes out,” said Champion. “Abuse can take place wherever there is a power balance. This is especially true of the relationship between a child and their coach. Ella’s Pam’s story highlights that even when the athlete is no longer a child, these type of relationships with a coach are inappropriate and harmful.
Judy Murray, the former Billie Jean King Cup captain, stressed the importance of “a trusted and secure means of reporting” concerns, backed up by “an assurance that it will be acted upon and not brushed under the carpet”. She added: More and more female athletes are finding the confidence to use their voices and share their experiences in an effort to make the sporting environment a safer place for women and girls.”