Australian Open women’s final branded ‘reserves game’ as politician sparks angry backlash | Tennis | Sport

Basil Zempilas sparked outrage on Saturday as he appeared to refer to the Australian Open women’s final as a “reserve game”. The Lord Mayor of Perth made the remark as he set up for a press conference. He later took to social media to try and clear things up, claiming it was “disingenuous and flat out wrong” to say his comment was about the women’s singles final between Aryna Sabalenka and Qinwen Zheng.

Zempilas suffered a major gaffe ahead of his press conference, which was staged to announce his intentions to seek preselection for a seat in state politics. The 52-year-old was heard chatting to journalists before things got underway, asking one reporter: “Tennis is on tonight, isn’t it?”

The journalist replied: “Yeah, the female final.” Afterwards, Zempilas is heard saying: “It’s a reserves game then.” A former West Australian Football League player and sports broadcaster, he added: “I say that having been there obviously.” The Lord Mayor of Perth was then informed that his microphone was on. “Okay, alright,” he says as his face drops.

After his comments caused a backlash, Zempilas took to X (formerly known as Twitter) to explain that he wasn’t referring to the women’s final as a “reserves game”. The Perth-based politician wrote: “I need to make absolutely clear the conversation I had with @9NewsPerth reporter @GenoveseMichael today is being reported totally incorrectly.

“Before today’s press conference Michael and I were talking about how presenting the news when a big sporting event is on at the same time means a small audience will watch the news. I then say to Michael words to the effect ‘are you reading the news tonight?’ He says yes and I say ‘the tennis is on tonight isn’t it?’ He then says ‘the women’s final’.”

Explaining what he was referring to when he made the comparison to a reserves game, the Lord Mayor of Perth continued: “And I then say referring to reading the news against that broadcast ‘it’s like the reserves then’.  Reading the news against the tennis was what I was referring to as ‘being the reserves’. Not the tennis. I can not make that any clearer or be any more emphatic. 

“It is totally disingenuous and flat out wrong to suggest otherwise and  I will not be accused of having said something I did not say. I am certain Michael will verify this.” Michael Genovese, with whom Zemplilas had had the conversation with, has since said: “This conversation has been taken completely out of context…Basil Zempilas was referring to the tennis and the news going head to head.” That hasn’t stopped the backlash, however, with some joking that Zempilas’ new political career could be over before it has even started.

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