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Umpires charge ITF of racial, gender bias

New York: Two tennis umpires have filed discrimination complaints against the sport’s international and national governing organisations, saying they faced retaliation after complaining that blacks and females were not treated fairly in that job.

The complaints against the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and the US Tennis Association (USTA) were filed with the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by Cecil Holland, 47, a 17-year veteran umpire, and Sande French, 47.

The filing is required before a discrimination lawsuit can be brought in federal court.

The umpires said in their complaints that tennis had minimised the roles of blacks and women in officiating. In her complaint, French said no woman has ever been permitted to officiate a significant men’s match in a Grand Slam or Davis Cup. Holland, who first aired his allegations prior to the 2002 US Open, said in a complaint that he rose steadily through the ranks, eventually achieving the status of gold badge umpire, held by 20 to 25 of about 2,000 tennis umpires worldwide.

In his complaint against the USTA, Holland said one of its employees used a racial epithet toward him and told him to “get off the court” as he hit tennis balls with another black umpire during the early rounds of US Open in 1998.

He said he complained about it and was demoted repeatedly and received fewer and fewer assignments.

Chris Widmaier, a USTA spokesman, said: “We find the claims to be without merit, and we will have no further comment.”

Gary E. Ireland, a lawyer for both umpires, said they were hoping for support from tennis players, who “seem to understand there’s a problem and it needs to be solved.”

In her complaint, French cited what she said was discrimination against female umpires. She said women have few opportunities to officiate and there are no women in charge of managing umpires in the USTA.

She said her complaints about discrimination against women led to retaliation against her, which only intensified after Holland made his complaints about the treatment of blacks.

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