Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon discusses a potential players union.
In his bid to return to prominence to the top of the tennis world, Novak Djokovic apparently made his strongest stand in the lead-up to this year’s Australian Open.
Entering last week in Melbourne, the Serb, if you recall, hadn’t played a competitive match since last summer’s Wimbledon. But he’s back now and at the players’ annual meeting in January he spoke to his peers about the potential and process of forming a players union.
That’s right, the 30-year-old has apparently taken his role to heart as an elder statesman on the ATP World Tour. “Our sport has become an industry, like most of the other global sports,” Djokovic said. “It’s more business than a sport. At times I mind that, I don’t like that. As someone [who] still plays this sport for the sake of playing it, you know, pure passion to be part of it, of course we’re all blessed to have great financial compensations, great lives. For sure, I’m very grateful for that.”
First off, let’s recognize that Djokovic sure is putting it on quite thick with the latter part of this quote. Sure he’s playing tennis for the passion and the fire burning within but let’s not forget that Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have won over $300 million in prize money between them. The passion is there, yes, but so is the money.
And they want more, and not just for them, and that’s admirable. Federer and Nadal kinda side-stepped the issue as they are known to do—the Swiss did the whole «Yeah sure» shoulder shrug routine—and even Djokovic himself backed away in Melbourne.
Let’s go ahead and say it, that this could be a good thing. It could be for the players at the top of the game and, as ESPN details, it could be a good thing for a player like Wesley Koolhof, who’s made all of $320,888 in the 10 years since he’s turned pro. Tennis isn’t fair, and that’s problematic.
Not only that, but it’s for players like Koolhof that the ATP season is most punishing: over the 11+ months of the tennis calendar, Djokovic, Nadal or Andy Murray will have the financial resources to take breaks; and if need be in case of lingering injuries, they’ll just decide to shut it down. But Koolhof can’t do that: if you don’t play, you don’t get paid and if you don’t get paid, then you can’t pay. But if you can get paid more, then maybe sometimes you can take the time to heal this nursing injury.
This is where a players’ union could help and maybe that’s a best-case scenario but this is what you need to aim for, the best-case scenario.
You might be wondering why players would need such a union. Don’t they have the ATP World Tour already? Well yes and actually, did you know the organization first started off as the Association of Tennis Professionals in September 1972? Then somewhere along the way, I guess its mandate changed and the organization now represents both players and tournaments.
So yeah, this is why a players’ union could be beneficial. Our friend Sergiy Stakhovsky has a little nugget too.
For all the media which are trying to say that the GS tournaments are “generous” here are some facts :
2012 was the year when players started to be united for fair pay…years before that players where relying on “generosity” of GS . pic.twitter.com/ToHvJM18Zi
— Sergiy Stakhovsky (@Stako_tennis) January 15, 2018
Overall, tournaments give players something like 15 to 28 per cent of their revenue. That’s erm, not a lot. Compare that to the 49 to 51 per cent given to NBA players, not to mention that they have actual guaranteed contracts whereas tennis pros only make money when they show up on a tennis court.
Players deserve more money of the pie and if they feel like they should unionize for this to happen, then that’s what they should do. So long as it doesn’t come at the expense of women players, who also are entirely free to feel like they deserve a bigger share of the financial pie. Equal pay for equal jobs in tennis, because he’s won the Australian Open the same way she has won the Australian Open.
In any case, players won’t unionize overnight. It takes time, and we’ll be there every step of the way.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG