MUMBAI (Reuters) - With lower-level athletes alleging lack of communication with the International Tennis Federation amid the COVID-19 lockdown, the governing body on Tuesday announced the creation of player panels for those competing on its World Tennis Tour.
The ITF World Tennis Tour consists of lower-rung tournaments and serves as a transition circuit between the junior and senior game, allowing more professionals a chance to earn a living while helping them move up the ladder to play on the men’s ATP Tour and the WTA Tour for the women.
But with the shutdown of the tennis circuit since early March due to the novel coronavirus, those depending solely on tournament winnings have been left in a precarious situation.
Georgia’s Sofia Shapatava, the world’s 375th ranked women’s singles player, started a petition seeking financial assistance from the ITF while also pleading with the body to communicate better with the lower-ranked professionals.
“The panel will provide a forum for players to provide their input and have their say on how the tour is run and will be a further opportunity for the ITF to engage with the player community,” the London-based governing body said.
While tennis is a lucrative sport for those at the top, those in the lower echelons often struggle to make ends meet.
The men’s ATP, the WTA, which runs the women’s circuit, the ITF and the organisers of the four Grand Slams have come together to work on creating an emergency relief fund for those struggling during the shutdown.
“It is vital that the views of players are represented at all levels of the sport and across the globe,” ITF chief David Haggerty said.
The men’s and women’s players will each elect a panel of seven current player members, who will have voting rights. An ITF-appointed chair and an ITF-appointed coach will also be in the panel but neither will have a vote.
Men’s players with an ATP ranking of below 350 and women’s tennis players with a WTA ranking no higher than 151 will be allowed to nominate a fellow player or stand in the election.
The elected members will serve two-year terms on the panel, which will advise and make recommendations to the World Tennis Tour Committee, which in turn reports to the ITF board.
Australian Mark Woodforde, a 17-time Grand Slam doubles champion, will chair the men’s panel while the women’s panel will be led by multiple Grand Slam winner Mary Pierce of France.
“There would be no tennis without the players, so it is vital that their voice is heard and that their views are considered when making decisions about how to run the Tour,” said Pierce.
Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Pritha Sarkar