« You are my hero », « Respect ». Venus Williams and Nick Kyrgios have both praised Inès Ibbou for her open letter addressed to Dominic Thiem, the number 3 player in the world. In a ten-minute long video, the Algerian tennis player responds to the Austrian, who said he did not want to contribute to the lower-ranked player relief fund. A video that tackles important issues but whose form is questionable. Here are the reasons why.
At the end of April, Dominic Thiem, finalist at the Australian Open last January, gave an interview to the Austrian magazine Kronen Zeitung. He was asked about a fund which world’s number one Novak Djokovic was trying to set up in the current context of the Covid-19 pandemic. The goal of this initiative was to help lower-ranked players – ranked between 250 and 700 in the world – who are struggling financially. Players inside the top 100 were going to be asked to contribute with a specific amount of money, ranging from $5000 to $30 000, depending on their rankings. Dominic Thiem, currently third in the world, would have had to donate $30 000.
During the interview, the Austrian opposed the relief fund as it was being presented. His comments, which can be found here, were translated and shared by several media. Most of the time, they were reported as follows:
Inès Ibbou’s response
Two weeks later, Inès Ibbou, a woman player ranked 620, reacted to those comments in an open letter directed towards the Austrian. Her goal was to tell her story and get her voice – and the one of those who share he reality – heard.
Throughout the video, the 21 year-old reflects on her journey, mentioning the financial sacrifices of her family, the poor conditions of training and play, the lack of help and recognition despite her good results, the long and difficult process to get a visa, her daily work and dedication to tennis… Basically everything.
She explains that she did it because she felt « insulted » and « hurt » by Thiem’s comments and considered that they were disrespectful to her sacrifices, work and perseverance. Therefore, showing her everyday life in order to prove him wrong seemed necessary to the young player.
But the thing is… Inès Ibbou explains that she wasn’t bothered by his refusal to donate to the relief fund, but by the comments he made. Comments which turned out to have been… twisted, or, at least, taken out of context. For instance :
Following the growing controversy, the Austrian provided clarification on his statement, a few days later. But his explanations have been more or less overlooked:
Thiem unfairly insulted and denigrated
And therein lies the whole issue. The Algerian repeats that she didn’t ask anything from Dominic Thiem and is even aware that he is not responsible for the hardships she has to go through:
However, by using his distorted words to build her narrative, opposing his story to hers and addressing him throughout the video, Inès Ibbou depicts him as a privileged, ignorant, stingy, selfish person, full of himself. As evidence, we can look at numerous offensive comments, sometimes written by people who have no clue about who he is, aimed at the Austrian:
But she does not just hurt his reputation. By comparing his journey to hers, the Algerian implies that the world’s number 3 does not fully deserve to be where he is today… because unlike her, his family was already familiar with the tennis world, he was born in Europe, got support and had access to great facilities, etc. That’s for sure. But as she calls his world a « magical » one, it should not be forgotten that it has not always been easy for Dominic Thiem who also had to fight his way up to the top. During his own journey, he had to face obstacles, maybe easier to overcome than Inès Ibbou’s, but challenging enough to teach him about sacrifices and privileges. Here are extracts from an open letter written by a Twitter user in response to Inès Ibbou’s:
An important letter but a wrong recipient
As the caption below her open letter on Instagram shows, the Algerian made it personal with the Austrian:
« Dear Dominic, your last words were hurtful to say the least, the reason why I decided to write you this open letter. Hopefully you’ll change your mind about me and many of us sharing the same situation ».
Yet, Inès Ibbou is totally conscious that she should not lay her issues at the world’s number 3′ feet:
« Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame you for what you are or this current situation because after all, it’s mainly up to national and international federations to look after tennis family and sort out our difficulties. »
Why, then, did she address that letter to Dominic Thiem? Why did she single him out during ten minutes? Probably to get a wider audience, at the expense of the Austrian who is very popular and liked on the tour. Some people pointed out how unfair it was to him, others showed how generous he actually was and a few players backed him up:
Everyone will agree that Inès Ibbou’s message was necessary, to bring attention to a reality that too few people know. Her statements about inequalities are important and will, hopefully, make things change. But it is undeniable that her story is now tarnished by an open war between those who support her and those who disagree with the way the video was packaged up. And that’s a shame. She was only asking for more respect and recognition, but it is hard not to think that she, herself, showed a lack of respect towards the Austrian, by targeting him and using his (twisted) words to tell a message that should have been sent to tennis bodies… Achieve your ends, yes, but at what cost?