Criminal background checks on tennis players' coaches and friends are not an invasion of privacy but are necessary to protect girls and women in the sport, WTA chief Larry Scott says.
"As the leading global sport for women and a sport where we have a lot of girls under age, I feel we've got a serious obligation to be at the forefront of any measures we can to protect the players," Scott, the women's tour CEO, told Reuters at the Dubai Championships.
The WTA security rules met initial opposition and many members of players' entourages refused to sign the new agreement to allow personal background checks.
In Doha two weeks ago, when the rules were introduced, players had to carry food out to coaches and friends who had been refused entry to the players' area.
That opposition had now melted away, Scott said.
"We did have a significant amount of pushback from coaches and some players supporting their coaches, concerns about privacy, concerns about the level of scrutiny but there were a lot of misunderstandings.
"It was good that I was there and I had a chance to hear their concerns and it turns out their concerns were misunderstandings about how far we were going.
"There was concern that we were looking into financial records or tax records, which was not the intent at all. We're only looking at if there's a criminal background or sexual offences. There was a misunderstanding about a few things, I was able to clarify them.
"We had quite a few coaches who didn't sign and that was quite awkward but I was able to meet with them and dispel much of the concern, and every player support team member in Dubai, Acapulco and Memphis (in the past week) has signed the form."
Officials were only interested in anything that might compromise player safety, he said.
"If someone had a driving offence or was shoplifting in a candy store when they were a teenager, something like that, it won't go anywhere," said Scott.
"If it's something that we're concerned about it comes to me and I make the decision as to whether or not it's a risk for the athletes and if it is they'll be denied access."
The WTA, which looks after more than 2,000 competitors from 90 countries, has set up a player security task force. "I asked them for recommendations on what we should be doing to stay a leader in preventing problems. I want to be ahead of these things, not reacting to problems," Scott said.
He said the new rules would also help to protect women's tennis against illegal gambling, a problem that has hit the men's game.
"Although this wasn't the original intent, it will also tie in with the anti-corruption issues, part of minimising any risks and ensuring the sport is clean, paying attention to who's got access to the players and to people around the players. So it's an additional benefit to the safety of the players and the integrity of the sport."
Last week, Federico Luzzi became the fifth Italian male player to be banned for betting on tennis since a worldwide investigation began seven months ago.
The men's governing body, the ATP, has had the subject of corruption high on its agenda since an investigation last year prompted by irregular betting patterns on a match between world number five Nikolay Davydenko of Russia and Argentine Martin Vassallo Arguello in Poland.
Both men have denied any involvement in betting. Several players have come forward to say they have been offered money to throw matches.
Scott said some women players had also been approached by people involved in gambling.
"You haven't seen our players talk of their concerns in the press but I've had players come to me and some of the staff to give me specifics about approaches that have been made to them," said Scott.
"So behind the scenes there's been an awful lot of education of players, so they understand what is happening, how they might be approached, that it's dangerous and the steps they should take to get help." (Reuters)
Criminal checks make game safer, WTA chief says