MUMBAI (Reuters) - The tennis governing bodies have joined forces to support lower-level professionals who are struggling financially during the sport’s shutdown due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
The tennis season was halted in early March due to the pandemic, leaving players in the lower tiers who depend solely on tournament winnings without the chance to earn a living.
The men’s ATP Tour and the WTA, which runs the women’s circuit, suspended all tournaments until mid-July after countries started locking down borders to contain the spread of the flu-like virus which has infected over two million people.
The International Tennis Federation (ITF), the sport’s governing body, was also forced to postpone its lower-tier World Tennis Tour.
The plight of the players ranked outside the top 100 in singles prompted all stakeholders, along with the organisers of the four Grand Slams, to step in and devise plans to provide some relief.
While professional tennis players remain independent contractors and not employees, ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi said he was impressed by the spirit of collaboration among the various governing bodies.
“I’ve been quite touched by the top players who reached out, the big names expressing really the desire of helping the lower-ranked players,” Italian Gaudenzi, a former top-20 player, said in a podcast on Friday.
“We’re also working and talking with the Grand Slams about it, they may want to join in the effort...
“In a world where we think greater collaboration among the governing bodies is key, I think it would be a great message if we can all support the players in this crisis.”
Gaudenzi said while the ATP’s reserves and resources were not infinite, and the body was also hamstrung by lack of clarity on the resumption of the sport, the Tour will offer help for those who need it most.
While tennis is a lucrative sport for those at the top, those in the lower echelons often struggle to make ends meet.
A 2018 International Review Panel report commissioned to address betting and integrity issues said that players in the lowest tiers were susceptible to corruption because of the difficulty in making a living.
Only 250-350 players, the report said, earned enough to break even.
Georgia’s Sofia Shapatava, the world’s 375th ranked women’s singles player, started a petition seeking assistance for lower-level professionals.
The WTA and the ATP have previously said they were working to boost players’ earnings when the sport resumes and might extend the current season to allow more tournaments to be held.
“In an effort to provide assistance with financial hardships, we have to date distributed over $3 million in payments to players since the suspension of play began in March,” WTA CEO Steve Simon told Reuters.
“We continue to look at every possible avenue to assist our members, which involves a number of potential options to provide such additional financial relief.”
The United States Tennis Association (USTA), the organisers of the U.S. Open, has made a commitment to support the financial packages being put together by the other governing bodies.
“There’s really two things we’re doing to support those lower-ranked players,” USTA Chief Executive Mike Dowse told reporters in a conference call on Thursday.
“We’ve made a commitment to continue to fund the challenger series and ITF-related tournaments when those come back online. That’s an investment in the neighbourhood of $7.5 million.
“We want to do this as part of a holistic package. It will be part of that relationship we have with the ATP and WTA. Those details are being finalised right now by those two organizations.”
Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Ken Ferris and Christian Radnedge