Olympic Rules Bent for Good Girl Fernandez
Jul. 01, 1996
WIMBLEDON, England (AP) _ This was one time when Mary Joe Fernandez wanted the rules broken.
In a subversion of Olympic policy, the irreproachable American had to rely on overt lobbying and behind-the-scenes arm-twisting to get a last-minute berth on the U.S. team for Atlanta.
She didn't mind a bit. In fact, a faithful emissary of American tennis over the years, this was one piece of special treatment Fernandez felt she deserved.
``It's kind of harsh not to be able to send defending gold medalists, especially because I'm so (highly) ranked,'' said Fernandez, who won a gold with Gigi Fernandez in the doubles and a bronze in the singles in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
A few hours before Sunday's midnight deadline, American officials announced that the International Olympic Committee had consented to a request that Fernandez be added as the U.S. team's fifth player. IOC rules state that each country is allowed only four.
``I'm very, very excited. It's a dream come true,'' Fernandez said after winning a fourth-round match at Wimbledon on Monday. ``It's something I've looked forward to since the last Olympics, and being in my home country makes it great.''
``I asked for help, and I knew they were looking at it,'' she said, ``and there were a lot of rules and regulations to go through. But, fortunately for me, I'm on the team.''
Fernandez had been left off by a quirk in the computer rankings. The International Tennis Federation had ruled, rather arbitrarily, that the field for the Olympics would be based on the rankings as of April 29.
On that date, Fernandez fell to No. 14, four places below Lindsay Davenport, who was selected along with Monica Seles and Chanda Rubin. Since then, Fernandez has moved ahead of Davenport.
Fernandez was devastated when she was left off the team. She had always said representing the United States in 1992 was the highlight of her career and that she was looking forward to going to Atlanta. She has also been a devoted member of the U.S. Fed Cup team, playing every time she's been asked, and carrying her compatriots virtually single-handedly when the United States beat Austria earlier this year.
Seles, Davenport, Rubin and a host of U.S. tennis officials publicly lobbied for Fernandez to be included. Negotiations ensued, and the ITF on Monday said the IOC had decided to allow Fernandez to go to Atlanta under ``exceptional circumstances.''
Under the agreement, the team of Fernandez and Fernandez _ who are not related _ will play doubles, while Seles, Rubin and Davenport will play singles. If Rubin is unable to play _ a wrist injury kept her out of the French Open and Wimbledon _ Mary Joe Fernandez also may play singles.
The ITF said the ``exceptional circumstances'' included that fact that Fernandez and Fernandez would get a chance to defend their doubles title, that the United States is staging the games, and that Mary Joe Fernandez was highly ranked and won last month's French Open doubles with Davenport.
``The ITF is delighted that our discussions with the IOC were successful,'' ITF president Brian Tobin said.
``I think it's been good that I have, hopefully, been a good role model,'' Mary Joe Fernandez said. ``And I've always had a pretty good attitude on the court and behaved well and, hopefully, set a good example for youngsters. So I think that all helps.''
Fernandez' good standing with fellow players dissuaded an outcry at her special exemption. Fernandez also said she didn't feel her case would create negative repercussions for future Olympics, should one country or another decide that it has a player who also deserves an ``exceptional circumstance.''
``To have somebody who's in the top 20 not be on the Olympic team is kind of harsh,'' Fernandez said. ``I think whether that's America or any other country, they should be given a chance to represent their country.''