Sport

Australian Open 2016: Tennis Australia loses three board members but denies link to match-fixing controversy

Tennis Australia has denied that the sudden resignations of one-third of its board, including its only two female directors, are connected to the match fixing controversy or has any whiff of gender bias, while declining to explain the reasons behind the shock multiple departures.

Stressing that board confidentiality rendered him unable to discuss the background to the exits last Friday of long-serving director Dr Janet Young and more recent additions Kerryn Pratt and Peter Armstrong, Tennis Australia president Steve Healy said he was unable to reveal the reasons behind the dramatic political ructions at board level.

In a statement released by Tennis Australia, Healy thanked the trio for their service, and said: "I also must state unequivocally that this is completely unrelated to current media reports on corruption in tennis. This has nothing to do with that issue."

Later, on the gender issue complicated by state government plans to require sporting associations and peak bodies to fill at least 40 per cent of their board positions with women or miss out on funding, Healy said the fact that both women on the board were among the three to resign was coincidental.

"There are men who are also gone, and diversity is a key for us, that will be dealt with as a part of the board renewal," he told Fairfax Media. "There is no doubt in my mind that we will have at least two female directors in the next round, and our goal is to increase that."

One TA insider explained the upheaval as "internal Tennis Australia politics", and suggested the resignations were the consequence of a thwarted power-play for the presidency. Another said that tensions at board level first surfaced in October, and have been an issue since that time.

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But the quest-for-power version of events has been questioned elsewhere in tennis circles, and branded out-of-character for the board members involved. "I categorically refute that this was a power play," Pratt, a former player, now TV commentator and former Australian Sports Commission board member, told Fairfax Media.

In what has been labelled an "extraordinary" situation, four vacancies now exist on the nine-person board, with Scott Tanner having stood down several weeks ago. Long-serving vice-president Harold Mitchell retired in October, when Tennis West president Greg Hutchinson was elected from a three-candidate field to fill a vacancy. Mitchell was persuaded to return and reinstated as joint vice-president with Queenslander Chris Freeman last month.

The resignation news baffled many in tennis on day three of the Australian Open. The Fed Cup Foundation, the organisation that is the voice of women's tennis in Australia, said it was alarmed and dismayed by the loss of the country's only two female board members. 

Fed Cup Foundation vice-president, Brigette McGuire, said the lack of female representation in the TA boardroom was of enormous concern. "It is disappointing to see that the only two female directors in the sport at either state or in this case national level have resigned," McGuire said. "This leaves us with no representation on any board in Australia."

McGuire, who is also on the advisory board of the Monash Business School and a former TA marketing director with experience across all levels of the sport, said she would consider possibly running for the board in the future. "But the caveat is to certainly understand what has happened for the dramatic resignations of these very good people. Why has this occurred?"

TA advised that its board is seeking advice from its nominations committee and expects to fill the casual vacancies created by the resignations at its next meeting in early March, after consultation with the member associations. The annual general meeting is scheduled for October 16, when Healy is expected to embark on a final three-year term.

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