The global coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has triggered an unprecedented global economic and sports financial crisis, with the business of sports and pro tennis in worse shape than it’s been since the Second World War engulfed the globe 80 years ago.
Tennis professionals below the elite of the elites have been hit hard financially by the shutdown of the global tennis tour (ATP/WTA/ITF), and the shutdown of secondary means of income such as tennis coaching/clinic opportunities, and exhibitions means that they are in even more financial dire straits than they normally are. Tennis players are self-employed and responsible for their own expenses, such as coaching, and travel/lodging, and depending on their home base country, they may or may not be elgible for the various forms of economic relief that countries have been offering to help stem the economic crisis in their respective countries.
The debate about financial inequality in tennis has roared up again due to COVID-19, with the best players in the sport capable of sheltering in place comfortably, with millions in the bank, while those below that may be dependent on charity to eat. On April 21st the sports governing bodies, the ATP, the WTA, and the ITF, including the four Grand Slams, announced a relief package was coming for the lower tier players who fill out draws and make the tour possible, even if most are not household names outside of their hometowns or countries.
The package is valued around 6 million, with significant contributions coming from the four Grand Slams, ATP, WTA, and ITF, with the bulk of the money going to those who are ranked below the top 200 in the world in men’s and women’s tennis as of the current rankings freeze. Depending on the flag they play under, some players will also be eligible for federation specific relief that some of the wealthier national federations are offering such as Great Britain. The relief package is also separate from any players council brokered package, such as the one that Novak Djokovic is pushing for where the the game’s biggest money earners would contribute to provide a temporary financial umbrella for players ranked between 250 and 700 (who largely fill draws on the Challenger and Futures tour).The ATP and WTA also have the opportunity to chart their own course when it comes to additional relief.
The announcement, though by no means a final resolution, will come as a massive relief to the players who are in a precarious economic state. In recent weeks they have gone to the media and those with a strong voice in the tennis community to help raise awareness of their plight and force action. Via news.com.au “world No. 371 Sofia Shapatava was so worried about the situation for lower-ranked stars she set up a petition on change.org calling for support from the International Tennis Federation, ATP and WTA.”
Other players aren’t waiting for the relief package, opting to participate in various exhibitions that have been organized, largely for the benefit of bookmakers and sports bettors such as the one taking place this week in Bradenton, Florida. These events offer at least some direct financial payment, and the opportunity to try to stay match fit for when the tour resumes, which will be later in July at the earliest.
The coronavirus has already changed so much globally and in the world of sports, and it’s quite realistic to assume that tennis will never be the same after the virus.