Team Italy tennis player Fabio Fognini apologized for the use of a homophobic slur against himself during his most recent match at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, saying the heat got to his head.
"In today's match I used a really stupid expression towards myself," Fognini wrote in a statement posted on his Instagram Story. "Obviously I didn't want to offend anyone's sensibilities. I love the LGBT community and I apologize for the nonsense that came out of me."
Fognini was playing Team Russia’s Daniil Medvedev in the third round of the men’s tennis competition on Wednesday in temperatures that reportedly hovered near triple digits. During the match, a clearly frustrated Fognini repeatedly yelled an anti-gay slur at himself. He also threw his racket and removed his shirt to cool himself throughout the match. His opponent, Medvedev, required medical attention when he nearly fainted from the heat during play, but both men were able to complete the match.
This was not the first time Fognini has run afoul of appropriate conduct on the tennis court. In 2017, he was kicked out of the U.S. Open doubles tournament for repeatedly insulting the chair umpire during an earlier loss in the first round of singles competition. He has also been suspended from two Grand Slam events.
The 34-year-old Fognini is currently ranked number 15 in the world in singles play. He is known as a red clay specialist, with 8 of his 9 ATP singles titles coming on the surface. He is also an accomplished doubles player, and was part of the first all-Italian men’s doubles pair to win a Grand Slam title during the Open era with their victory at the 2015 Australian Open.
Homophobic slurs are sadly not uncommon in sports. Last year, the San Diego Loyal team of the USL Championship soccer league forfeited a game and their chance at the playoffs rather than take the field against a team with a player who went unpunished for using an anti-gay slur against one of their players. The team also forfeited a game the week before when an opposing player went unpunished for the use of a racial slur.
"I know a lot of people watching from afar probably don’t get it, but we’ve been living it," Loyal manager London Donovan said of the two forfeits.
French soccer player Yann Songo’s was suspended for 6 games after hurling a homophobic slur against a competing player during a game in January. Songo’o was handed a red card and dismissed from the January 30 game after he was captured on tape uttering an offensive epithet during an injury timeout.
Professional golfer Justin Thomas was dropped by Ralph Lauren when he was caught using a homophobic slur after missing a putt this January at a PGA Tour tournament in Hawaii.
"There’s no excuse," Thomas said after the round, adding, "It's not who I am, it's not the kind of person I am but unfortunately I did it and I have to own up to it and I'm very apologetic."
While the International Tennis Federation has yet to issue a formal statement on Fognini’s actions, they did acknowledge the concerns of all players regarding the heat by moving matches until later in the day when the temperatures were cooler.
Fognini eventually lost his match to Medvedev in three sets, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2.