Tennis: ASB reaffirms support of ASB Classic tournament in Auckland after withdrawal reports

Serena Williams in action at the ASB Classic in Auckland. Photo / Photosport

ASB has reaffirmed “full financial support” for the ASB Classic in Auckland following reports that the bank could withdraw its branding from the tennis tournament if Russian or Belarusian players were to take the court.

ASB is reportedly considering removing its name from New Zealand’s biggest tournament if players from Russia or Belarus were to compete at the upcoming event in January next year, according to Newshub.

In a statement today, the Australian-owned bank said “there is no suggestion that ASB would withdraw its significant financial support for the tournament”. The bank did not respond when asked if there were plans to remove or alter ASB branding on the tournament if Russian or Belarusian players are in the competition.

Taking on the role of tournament director in May, Nicolas Lamperin made it clear he would not approach Russian and Belarusian players for January’s tournaments, ruling out the likes of Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev, top-10 players who command huge appearance fees and would simply not enter otherwise. Women players such as fifth-ranked Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka and 11-ranked Russian Daria Kasatkina would also not be approached.

However, Russian and Belarusian citizens are eligible to get visas or work permits to enter New Zealand, which means players from those countries could enter the tournaments. Tournament organizers would be powerless to prevent Russian or Belarusian tennis players from entering the competition.

If athletes from those countries did compete, ASB could remove its branding and replace it with signage expressing support for Ukraine and the bank’s opposition to the Russian invasion.

ASB would become the first naming-rights sponsor of an ATP and WTA event to pull its branding because of the presence of Russian and Belarusian players in the field.

In a joint statement released by ASB, Tennis Auckland and Tennis New Zealand, the bank confirmed their financial support for the tournament would remain.

“Media reports this week have speculated about the involvement of Russian or Belarusian players in the January 2023 event,” the statement read. “To be clear, the 2023 tournament will go ahead as planned with ASB’s full financial support.

“Under Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) regulations tournament organizers must allow Russian and Belarusian players to enter the tournament if they are sufficiently well ranked.

“We all understand that Tennis Auckland and Tennis New Zealand are in a difficult position and there is no suggestion that ASB would withdraw its significant financial support for the tournament should Russian or Belarusian players compete.”

The statement added: “ASB has long been a passionate supporter of tennis in New Zealand. This year the bank celebrated its 25th year sponsoring the ASB Classic tournament in Auckland by announcing it has signed as the naming rights sponsor for a further three years.

“We all love tennis and look forward to this great annual event being back after a two-year Covid hiatus. The ASB Classic is one of the highlights of the summer calendar, particularly in Auckland, and is expected to bring around $27 million in much needed additional consumer spending to the Auckland region.”

In July, Wimbledon banned those players, prompting a backlash from the Tours who stripped the Grand Slam of ranking points.

Tournament entries for the women’s Classic close on November 21 and for the men’s tournament a week later.