American tennis professional Serena Williams condemned the head of the Russian Tennis Federation for how he recently described her and her older sister, calling his remarks “extremely sexist” and “racist.”
During a late night Russian TV talk show, tennis President Shamil Tarpischev depicted Serena and Venus Williams as “brothers.” The younger sister, who is currently ranked No. 1 in women’s singles tennis, publicly responded to Tarpischev on Sunday.
“I thought his comments were very insensitive. I thought they were extremely sexist, as well as racist at the same time. I thought they were in a way bullying,” Williams, 33, said from Singapore, ahead of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Finals on Monday. She won the U.S. Open title last month.
The WTA promptly banned Tarpischev for a year and fined him $25,000. In his initial apology, Tarpischev said that he “didn’t think this incident deserves so much fuss.” But he later issued another mea culpa.
“While my intention was to make a small joke, I realize now that what I said was inappropriate in any context,” he wrote in an open letter. “I understand now that my remarks were wrong and could be construed as discriminatory.”
Tarpischev, who also serves as a member on the International Olympic Committee, made his comments during an appearance on a Russian talk show alongside former Olympic singles champion Elena Dementieva. The host asked Dementieva about her experiences playing against the Williams sisters, but Tarpischev interrupted and called them the “Williams brothers.”
The sisters are two of the biggest stars ever to participate in women’s tennis.
Maria Sharapova, who ranks second behind the younger Williams, defended the sisters and said she thought Tarpischev’s comments were “disrespectful” and “uncalled for.”
“It was very inappropriate, especially in his position and all the responsibilities that he has, not just in sport, but being part of the Olympic committee,” Sharapova said. “It was just really irresponsible on his side.”