Tennis star Novak Djokovic’s gender pay ‘apology’ was a PR car crash

Tennis player Novak Djokovic spoke rashly on social media. He should have followed the example of the humorous Garda road-safety Twitter feed, writes Terry Prone.

Tennis star Novak Djokovic’s gender pay ‘apology’ was a PR car crash

THEY are faceless, nameless, anonymous, but possibly uniformed. We don’t know their age or gender. We don’t know their names or their ranks. We don’t even know if the output is generated by one half-mad bloke in the attic, in Garda HQ, giggling furtively behind his or her hand. But hats off to the folk who man (or ‘woman’) the road-traffic Twitter feed at An Garda Síochána. They’ve created something that’s consistently funny, while also being educational, mainly about road safety. A couple of weeks ago, they ran a picture of a canon on its way to the 1916 commemorations, with a reminder that every load — including heavy artillery — should be properly secured.

At the weekend, they put up a picture of the back-end of a pickup truck — number plate compassionately obscured — with a solar panel crossways on it, said panel extending beyond the curtilage of the truck on both sides, frighteningly so on one side.

“I don’t give a monkey’s uncle if you invented the first solar-powered truck, ye can’t be doing that, lads,” read the Tweet accompanying the picture.

Understandably, it got retweeted all over the place. Which is great as a road-safety reminder. Really great. 99.9% of road-safety messages are characterised by a complete absence of any emotion other than gravity and anxiety. Humour? Forget it.

We’re talking potential death and destruction, here, so we’d better speak from permanently down-turned mouths. Or that was the belief until the coven of road traffic, Tweetie Gardai, got going. They lead the field in the witty-productive use of social media.

Disastrously UNwitty UNproductive use of social media seems to have broken out in sport, although, to be fair, most of the outbreaks were initiated on mainstream media.

First of all, Raymond Moore, then an important figure in the Indian Wells tennis business, told the gathered press that women’s tennis had been riding “on the coattails” of the men’s game, and that “if I was a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport, they really have.”

I wasn’t surprised that Billie Jean King, the great defender of women’s rights in tennis, surfaced to eat the face off him. Indeed, even if she was good-and-dead, I wouldn’t have been surprised if Billie Jean had surfaced to eat the face off him.

Poor Raymond Moore didn’t have enough face to satisfy all the people who wanted to make a meal of him. He said it at breakfast time. He was done, dusted, and gone by lunchtime. I think he apologised somewhere along the line, but apologising in that situation is like trying to placate an oncoming express train.

It was inevitable, as Raymond Moore faded off the news feeds, that tennis players appearing in public would be asked for their reaction to what he had said.

You don’t have to be either a rocket scientist or a PR guru to work that one out. And you could also figure that an eleven-time Grand Slam tennis champion would have access to PR experts, who might alert him to the possibility, and help keep him inside the tramlines.

Yet out came Novak Djokovic, either unprepared or determined that he was going to put both of his feet in his mouth, which he did with some aplomb. In summary, he came down on Moore’s side of the argument, telling the oncoming train of global opinion that those who attract more viewers, i.e., male tennis players, should get paid more than women players.

This is his belief and he is entitled to it. Beyoncé gets paid more money than Mary Byrne, because she plays to larger numbers. Those of us who love Mary Byrne may think this unfair, but them’s the breaks.

If Djokovic can prove that women’s tennis attracts measurably fewer viewers than does men’s tennis, then his view is, at least, arguable, although this was neither the time nor the place to argue it. Serena Williams and Andy Murray ate the face off him, Murray rubbishing his claim that men’s tennis out-draws the women’s game.

“At the US Open last year, the tickets for Serena’s matches were selling out much quicker than the men’s matches,” Murray pointed out, adding that some women’s matches at the Miami Open have more public appeal than some of the men’s matches.

At that point, Djokovic went on his Facebook page, announcing to the world that he had taken a few deep breaths before addressing his followers.

What he then said indicated that he grievously underestimated the number of deep breaths required. Because virtually every statement he subsequently uttered cemented his self-inserted feet.

“As you may have seen, I was asked to comment on a controversy that wasn’t of my making,” was his opening gambit. Not his fault, you get it? Evil people asked him to say things about something of which he was innocent. Right. Moving on from that bit of self-serving pomposity...

“Euphoria and adrenalin after the win on Sunday got the best of me,” he then pleaded. Ah, sure, God love you, Novak. You poor naïf. You’re so unused to winning, you wouldn’t be used to the euphoria and adrenalin associated with victory at all at all.

“I’ve made some comments that are not the best articulation of my view, and I would like to clarify them,” he went on, before a paragraph which positioned tennis up there with religion as having made him what he is today and about which he cares deeply. He was talking, he explained, about the fairer distribution of funds across the board. No, he wasn’t.

“This was never meant to be made into a fight between genders and differences in pay,” he went on. Well, now, let’s get a small bit of a grip here, Novak. You were asked to comment on a sexist comment by a 70-year-old, a comment that clearly posited a fight between genders on differences in pay.

Secondly, not being argumentative or anything, but, right now, there are two genders in top-level tennis, so which unnamed group was he demanding fairer money for, other than men?

You think he was done? Nah. More to come. More assertions about his love for tennis, plus a bit of credit-taking for his boundless altruism: “Tennis is a sport that I love and that gave me the opportunity to help others who still have a long way to go to achieve their dreams.” All together now: Aaah.

And then he went for the jugular. His own. He apologised to anyone who had taken his comments “the wrong way.” Bottom line: It’s all our fault for taking him up wrongly. He wasted all that time breathing deeply and we’re so thick we can’t understand his highly oxygenated thoughts.

Posted by Novak Djokovic on Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Two pieces of communications advice for Novak. First, impulsivity in public communications is always dangerous. Second, when you apologise, do it fully and briefly, or not at all.

The road traffic Twitter feed at An Garda Síochána is consistently funny, while also being educational

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