Tennis chief: WTA stance on Russian players made Tallinn event complicated

Allar Hint, director of the WTA 250 Tallinn Open 2022, and chief of Estonia's domestic tennis association.
Allar Hint, director of the WTA 250 Tallinn Open 2022, and chief of Estonia's domestic tennis association. Source: ERR

Allar Hint, the Estonian Tennis Association's (Eesti tenniseliit) secretary general, told ERR that there are three legs to the funding – the private sector, local government and the state, and while the first two were supportive, the latter was not even last year, when the event did go ahead.

As a consequence again of a lack of state support, the WTA250-level competition, held last year at the Tondi Ice Hall, will not be taking place in 2023, Hint said in an interview with ERR's sports portal which follows in its entirety.

When the tournament ended last year, how was the communication? Did you immediately sit down at the table with the state, or were you in an exchange of information whereby you would be able to organize the tournament in the future, and that your request was for the needed support?

We have had a very positive and busy exchange of information with the Ministry of Culture and its secretary general (sport falls under the culture ministry's remit-ed.). They have stood up for us, and we have shared what information we have. We have nothing to blame anyone for. Unfortunately, however, the government does not see this matter as we would like it to, and there is no such support from them. This means the support needed is not in the Ministry of Culture budget.

How big of a financial shortfall are we talking about?

The entire tournament budget from last year was somewhere around €1.4 million, which should be more-or-less divided into three, ie. €400,000-€500,000 for each of the parties (Tallinn City Government, the Estonian state, and the private sector-ed.).

There will have been news about how Russian and Belarusian athletes reengaging in international sports life. Tennis has made that viable for them, but the Estonian state has taken a different standpoint. If the tournament organization could be done in terms of its other aspects, how do you see how it would be viable to hold the tournament in Estonia, in the light of today's WTA policy? Ie. when we have clear knowledge that they want Russian and Belarusian tennis players to be able to participate in Tallinn, but the Estonian state would not agree to that situation.

This is somewhat of a challenge, isn't it? If you look at how the WTA communicates and demands from the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) that Russians and Belarusians get to enter their tournaments, it would have become quite a headache and a challenge [here]. It is true that the WTA has its own very clear views about Russians and Belarusians participating in tournaments. This is what they expect and demand from all WTA series competitions.

Allar Hint, Anett Kontaveit and Mayor of Tallinn Mihhail Kõlvart, ahead of last year's Tallinn WTA250 tournament. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Can you see any possibility where the competition could have gone ahead without Russian and Belarusian tennis players yet the event still having been accepted by the WTA?

For sure there would have been some options. That outcome could not be excluded one hundred percent. But as I said before, seeing how they behave and interact with the English tennis association (ie. the LTA – ed.) and other tournaments at the moment, it would have been certainly difficult. We were in the same situation last year as well, and managed to settle things so that the Russian and Belarusian players did not participate in our tournament.

The shining memory from last fall's beautiful sporting tournament is definitely still in many people's minds. It is true that Anett Kontaveit's situation is more complicated now, than it was then. But things changed during the process and, even though the tournament looked like it wasn't going to take place, it finally did. Is there still any chance at all that the competition could take place in Tallinn this year?

I have to admit that last year I was also relatively sure that all the trains had left the station, and then the next train came along. So never say never. As thing stand right now, however, the situation is leaning more towards it not happening this year.

Allar Hint was talking to Johannes Vedru of ERR's Sport portal.

WTA tournaments are organized in three tiers, 250, 500 and 1000, with the latter only one down from the four Grand Slam open competitions. Naturally competition between different venues worldwide is fierce, and Tallinn getting last year's slot meant somewhere else missing out.

Tallinn, Viimsi and also Pärnu, have also hosted many second-tier International Tennis Federation (ITF) tournaments.

Not only the WTA, but also the men's equivalent, have penalized Britain's LTA, the organizer of the iconic Wimbledon Tennis Championships and effectively the inventor of the sport, over a ban on Russian players in the wake of that country's invasion of Ukraine starting last year.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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