FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Novak Djokovic, Tennis and Player’s Unions

Novak Djokovic, on returning to competitive tennis at the Australian Open, caused something of a a stir that a revolt in the game was brewing.  Was it about ball boys or girls, or his smooth unblemished victory against the unfortunate Donald Young?  Umpires and adjudications?  Nothing of the sort.  It was tennis players, and the old issue of remuneration.

At the first press conference, journalists picked up a scent from the ATP Tour player council president, a particularly pongy one, on a potential insurrection.  It was supposedly taking various forms: players pondering a potential boycott of next year’s Australian Open or a breakaway player’s union that would supply muscle in future negotiations.  A meeting of various players, orchestrated by Djokovic, had supposedly involved a lawyer to clarify the finer points of Australian labour law.

“Some of you have written a story that has been a little bit exaggerated,” shot back the Serb at the post-match conference. “You’ve taken things out of context. I saw that you’ve portrayed me as someone who is very greedy, asks for more money and wants a boycott.”

It was not a hard thing to do.  Monte Carlo, his domicile, doesn’t burden its residents with tax.  He was also the first player to earn more than $100 million in prize money, hardly a sign of struggling penury or starvation. In terms of athletes raking in the fortunes, Djokovic ranks highly – very highly.  On that score, it is also worth nothing the promise by Australian Open director Craig Tiley to boost the tournament prize money from $55 million to $100 million over the next five years.

Players, however, seemed to be reading from a different scoresheet.  What seemed to be a closed gathering of up to 150 players turned out to be a conversation “about certain topics.  I don’t think there is anything unhealthy about that.”  Otherwise, “not of much of what you have [written] is true.”  The turning rumour mill was not helped by a request by Djokovic to Tiley, and all non-players, to leave the meeting room.

Leaving aside the incongruent symbolism – the man with money bags, getting together with those of equal stature – pontificating about wanting more revenue, the plausibility, let alone wisdom, of having a union is harder to dispel.

“The problem with all of this,” claimed the first ranked player Rafael Nadal, “is when you talk about money.  At the end of the day is not about money.” While not wanting to be drawn specifically on Djokovic’s intervention, Nadal’s broad support, in a manner of speaking, was clear. For him, “at some point [it] is good that the players speak between each other about what we want or what we don’t want.”  Do not forget, he urged, the lower ranked players, for them to “have better money to survive.”

Tennis, in that sense, remains almost singular in being one of the top-tier sports of the world that lacks such a representative body for its players.  It is the golden goose that seemed to slip through the net, and sports officials are relieved to that end.

It would be a mistake, for instance, to attribute the characteristics of a union to the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), which doubles up as both player association and organiser of the entire competitive circuit bar the four grand slams.  As former slam winner Andy Roddick notes, it was simply not possible “for an entity to represent both sides of a negotiation.  I’m amazed it’s not talked about more.”

Andy Murray’s mother, Judy, chimed in: “Totally agree.  What about an umbrella union that represents men and women?  That would give the players a much stronger voice to challenge the Slams and the joint ATP/WTA events. Better together.”

Support is certainly present for a move amongst players to a more standardised negotiation format.  This is probably unsurprising given the existence of collective bargaining agreements that undergird other codes.  The National Basketball Association has one which ensures a handsome distribution of 50 percent of the league’s revenue to players, along with 16 days off during the playing season.

In tennis, the return for players is a meagre 7 percent, certainly over the four grand slams (Australian, French, US Opens and Wimbledon), though these are managed by the International Tennis Federation and the respective national bodies in each host country,

As Braham Dabscheck notes, the professionalization of sports, the imposed restrictions on player mobility and ease of contracting, coupled with the phenomenon of sports broadcasting, altered the balance.  “Beginning in the 1940s and ’50s, players increasingly formed associations and challenged employment rules in the courts.”

Dabscheck further notes that such player associations advance a whole suite of programs and policies, from community projects to advancing the welfare agenda of players once they have retired.  And while it is easy to muddle the stars and tennis aristocrats with the toiling plebs, the issue remains.  Tennis has yet to join that regulated side of sports, remaining the great, and for administrators, defiant outlier.

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

December 12, 2018
Arshad Khan
War, Anniversaries and Lessons Never Learned
Paul Street
Blacking Out the Yellow Vests on Cable News: Corporate Media Doing its Job
Kenneth Surin
The Brexit Shambles Rambles On
David Schultz
Stacking the Deck Against Democracy in Wisconsin
Steve Early
The Housing Affordability Crisis and What Millennials Can do About It
George Ochenski
Collaboration Failure: Trump Trashes Sage Grouse Protections
Rob Seimetz
Bringing a Life Into a Dying World: A Letter From a Father to His Unborn Son
Michael Howard
PETA and the ‘S’-Word
John Kendall Hawkins
Good Panopt, Bad Panopt: Does It Make A Difference?
Kim C. Domenico
Redeeming Utopia: a Meditation On An Essay by Ursula LeGuin
Binoy Kampmark
Exhuming Franco: Spain’s Immemorial Divisions
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
Democratizing Money
Laura Finley
Congress Must Reauthorize VAWA
December 11, 2018
Eric Draitser
AFRICOM: A Neocolonial Occupation Force?
Sheldon Richman
War Over Ukraine?
Louis Proyect
Why World War II, Not the New Deal, Ended the Great Depression
Howard Lisnoff
Police Violence and Mass Policing in the U.S.
Mark Ashwill
A “Patriotic” Education Study Abroad Program in Viet Nam: God Bless America, Right or Wrong!
Laura Flanders
HUD Official to Move into Public Housing?
Nino Pagliccia
Resistance is Not Terrorism
Matthew Johnson
See No Evil, See No Good: The Truth Is Not Black and White
Maria Paez Victor
How Reuters Slandered Venezuela’s Social Benefits Card
December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail