On Monday evening, Irina Begu defeated Caroline Garcia in a near three hour battle in Charleston. What followed the match was a scandal that left Garcia’s social media littered with vile insults, threats, and calls for her to be banned over a racist comment that was never said.
The words allegedly used by the 22 year old were “I can’t believe I am losing to this Gypsy s**t”, referring to her Romanian opponent. The Romanians have often been linked to the Gypsy lifestyle and have had many conflicts with the French in the past. It is easy to see why such a comment would offend the Romanian people.
It was just minutes after the match had finished that a thread on TennisForum was started accusing Garcia of making these comments. There was no evidence, no proof, only a lie. The alleged time of Garcia making this comment was proven false by some of the French speakers on the board, but by then it was too late.
The accusation had been picked up on social media, and a Portuguese news site reported that the Frenchwoman had made the comments, sourcing TennisForum as a source. The story was quickly picked up by the Romanian press who reported the comments, again without any proof. One site went as far as to link the Facebook page of Garcia.
What followed was thousands and thousands of abusive messages posted on her Facebook page. Messages such as ‘Racist b***h’, manipulated images of her wearing gypsy clothing and the Nazi party flag. Some people even went as far as to wish death upon her, many also claiming that they will do it themselves.
Even when Begu’s coach said the he was “99% sure” the comments were not made, and the Romanian herself, who is a French speaker, said that she had not heard Garcia make these comments, people still took to social media to tell Garcia their opinion of her.
The WTA rightfully decided to investigate the issue, reviewing the match footage and questioning nearby witnesses–nothing was found. CEO Steve Simon posted the following statement:
#WTA CEO Steve Simon’s statement pertaining to Garcia vs Begu match on April 4th. pic.twitter.com/5SCELwlx5H
— WTA (@WTA) April 5, 2016
Garcia herself then posted a statement of her own:
— Caroline Garcia (@CaroGarcia) April 6, 2016
For the French woman, her name and image has taken a hit in many peoples eyes. Despite saying nothing racist towards her opponent, the media jumped on the story and created a wave of hatred towards an innocent woman. What the scandal has shown is the failure of journalism and of humanity.
The job of a journalist is to report the facts. There was no evidence of such comments being made with the only source being an online fan forum. None of the outlets should have reported the story as a fact, or at all. It is key for a journalist to check their sources before publishing, other wise they could be in breach of the defamation laws. It is the responsibility of the journalist to report the truth, and on this occasion they failed.
As for the people who took to Garcia’s Facebook page to send the hateful comments, they should be ashamed. Without evidence they should have questioned the legitimacy of the story before taking to social media to voice their opinion. It is unacceptable, even if she did say those comments, and thousands of people owe her an apology that she will not receive.
The fact is, nobody won. Garcia has her name tarnished and was subject to abuse, Begu and her team were brought into an issue which was false, the news outlets that published the accusation look stupid, as do the people that hurled abuse at Garcia, the TennisForum poster that started the rumor is no longer apart of the forum and holds the responsibility of starting this scandal, and the WTA lost as it reflects negatively on the sport.
We hope that Garcia, a player that has no history of racial or nasty comments, can move on and concentrate on her tennis. For those involved in their shaming of her, they should take a long hard look at themselves and be ashamed.