Rafael Nadal has received support from former Spanish player David Ferrer after he came in for criticism for his thoughts on how the government in Spain dealt with the coronavirus epidemic.
Over 26,000 people have died in Spain from the disease, which is the fourth-highest total behind the United States, the United Kingdom and Italy.
Nadal has been self-isolating at his home in Porto Cristo for several weeks but with lockdown measures being eased in recent days it has enabled him to practise again in a private property.
But speaking with the Spanish media this week, Nadal was critical of the government for their handling of the situation.
“The world is suffering a pandemic, so people cannot travel and that is an inevitable situation, but I feel that when it comes to saving lives, things could have been done differently,” Nadal said.
“If preventive measures had been adopted earlier, it would have avoided the need for all the extreme measures we took later. Don’t take this as a criticism of the government, because ultimately this has overwhelmed me too.
“I did not think that I would ever go through something like this, and I accept my share of blame for it. I was prepared to play at Indian Wells without considering what was about to descend on us.
“Nobody had been expecting it, but the people in charge here should have had access to all this information, and in that sense, I do believe a mistake was made.
“I regularly make mistakes and I own up to them, and that makes us more human. I am not being opportunistic here. I too am overwhelmed by the situation.
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“I don’t have all the information and I only make decisions about myself. The situation has overwhelmed us all, and not just in Spain.”
There was an inevitable backlash to those comments with politicians firing back at Nadal.
But in an interview with Spanish newspaper Marca, Ferrer came to the defence of his compatriot and former rival, insisting athletes should be able to give an opinion without rebuke.
He said: “It hurts me very much that an athlete cannot give his opinion. I do not like criticism with demagoguery.
“I do not like the insult, you can agree with an athlete or not, but not deny him that he expresses himself.
“I know Rafa Nadal and his family and it hurts. He is a very coherent person. What happens?
“That his opinion is worth less than that of the others? It only lacks that he could not say what he is thinking.”
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