A promoter who ran a marketing push for the Australian Open that included playing VIP tennis fans with the chance to meet Rafael Nadal has been barred from the event for two years, sport’s governing body said Friday.
Nick Alemann caused controversy in January, when he advertised the chance for guests to meet Nadal at the tournament in Melbourne. The tournament routinely invites those who complete an online entry form for a VIP invitation to see the players in action in the Australian Open.
But Alemann presented his 2017 players’ franchise as “Nadal Fans Club VIP Access Week 1 & 2: Nadal 2gether.”
The Mail on Sunday printed the accompanying photograph of a pair of fans with Maria Sharapova in her bikini, who Alemann claimed were Nadal’s “young lady fans.” He was also promoting his “sponsored opportunity” for those attending the event, and promoting it as “worth more than the value of a day’s tickets.”
Australian Open CEO Craig Tiley denounced the promotional push in January, saying, “We want our tennis fans to know that this event is a totally safe and wholesome event. We’re all adults, so I would ask people to please conduct themselves responsibly and to not get themselves in these sorts of a situation.”
He added, “Those caught in a situation we don’t consider safe or wholesome will receive a letter in the mail.”
Alemann responded in an online video by saying: “I accept the ban — and if they send me one of those letters with my name and my name branded on it saying, ‘You are banned from attending for two years and you must pay a fine of $10,000 for this,’ I can live with that.”
The Australian Press Council subsequently ruled the Australian Open “should publish a warning on its website, but I think that goes way too far,” Alemann said in a statement.
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic was also widely criticized for his attendance at Alemann’s Nel-Tec in Austria during the lead-up to the Australian Open.
“I’m not trying to explain my position or my behavior or anything, it’s just that with all these videos coming out, you’re having a look at all the players, a look at everything. You can put yourself in that situation. It does make you question a little bit,” Djokovic said.
“I might have just caused a little bit of offense to somebody, but at the end of the day I love tennis, I love what I do. You know, you always have that balance and right, you know, to have some fun as well.”
The Australian Open said it has “zero tolerance for comments that contain unacceptable content and/or indecent material and we expect athletes of all levels of professional sport to show respectful behavior.”
The press council, however, concluded that the two-year ban was more severe than “appropriate,” given the promotion and Twitter accounts for which Alemann had been running.
This year’s Australian Open has already received a reprieve, with the Australian Open Lawn Tennis Association’s new president confirming on Friday that the nation would host the Wimbledon Grand Slam tournament next year, with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer expected to return, according to the New York Times.
Alexandra Panetta contributed to this report