While football or rugby players, among others, don't hesitate to spit on the ground, tennis players seem to hold their saliva in. But is it that simple? "Sometimes it's really borderline! I remember a young player...

While football or rugby players, among others, don't hesitate to spit on the ground, tennis players seem to hold their saliva in. But is it that simple?

"Sometimes it's really borderline! I remember a young player who was playing his first match for Manchester United. When he came on, and he was fully aware that he was being filmed, he spit on camera for his first 'public appearance'." Darren Tulett, an English presenter on French TV, loathes this habit that footballers have of spitting everywhere. Especially since the shameless gob of spit has now became for the viewer the prerogative of the football player. It is difficult indeed to imagine Roger Federer spitting five times per game on the green grass of Wimbledon. To explain the withholding of tennis players, an argument is quickly convened: education. "I can't think of any other explanation than 'education' or rather 'habits', says Bruno Sesboüé from the Regional Institute of Sports Medicine of Caen. Like football players, tennis players produce thick saliva during exercise. But with tennis often being played indoors, they are probably accustomed to swallow rather than spit." The former professional football player Edouard Cisse has, for his part, an additional hypothesis: "When you're on a football pitch, you don’t pay attention to the cameras. But since they film twenty-two players for an hour and a half, they’re always going to find someone spitting. In tennis, there are only two people on the court and they know they are being filmed constantly. I think they are used to being more careful."   A 10,000 pound fine So, a matter of habit then, especially because in the ATP regulations nothing prohibits spitting, as explained by Franck Sabatier, head of referees at Roland Garros: "There’s absolutely nothing stated in the rulebook that prohibits spitting. Except, of course, in the case of inappropriate behaviour, for example, spitting in the direction of a person or the public… The umpire can then call the referee, who may disqualify the player." Some have already received heavy fines for that, as Victor Hanescu can attest. The Romanian had the unfortunate idea of spitting in the direction of spectators who had criticized his serve at Wimbledon in 2010. Result: he was charged a 10,000 pounds fine. So, are tennis players really more educated? Not necessarily, at least, not for Jean François Toussaint, director of the Institute for Biomedical Research and Sports Epidemiology (IRMES) in France. Asked by the magazine Slate, he said that the the size of the stadium is a key element: "Physiology is the same for all athletes, whether it's football or tennis players, but the organization of the stadiums has an influence on their behaviour. In tennis, where the spectators are very close to the players, they may feel embarrassed to spit, because they're right in front of their audience." That doesn’t prevent tennis players to expel their saliva quietly, explains Franck Sabatier: "tennis players spit as well, but they try to do it discreetly, perhaps in their towel." Bruno Sesboüé confirms: "I had the opportunity to ask tennis players, and on clay courts, they don't hesitate to spit." Darren Tulett isn't going to be happy…   By Arthur Jeanne