COVID-19 Reveals Tennis's Financial Disparity

For the first time since World War II, the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club officially announced the cancellation of the Wimbledon Championships on March 31, 2020, due to concerns about COVID-19. The French Tennis Federation (FFT) also made the decision to shift the dates of the 2020 French Open from September 20 to October 4, originally scheduled for May and June.

Just a few weeks prior, tournament organizers announced that the 2020 BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California had been canceled due to concerns regarding COVID-19. It was the first major sports event in the United States to be canceled because of the virus.

In addition, the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), Women's Tennis Association (WTA), and International Tennis Federation (ITF) made the decision to suspend its professional tours and freeze player rankings in early March in order to assure that tennis would be able to move forward with both healthy fans and players once the tours are resumed. The highest-ranked players on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Tour, also known as the "Big Three," Novak Djokovic of Serbia, number two ranked Rafael Nadal of Spain, and Switzerland's Roger Federer, have all donated money to support their native country's battle against COVID-19. Similarly, women on the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) Tour, including Simona Halep and Coco Gauff, have also taken steps to lend a hand in the global efforts to overcome COVID-19, just as many players in the top 100 have.

Although the higher-ranked players can live with only the worry of not competing, the suspension of tournaments affects lower-level professionals much more profoundly. The average professional tennis player makes $35,000 per year before subtracting the expenses from traveling and coaching. $35,000 is not a significant amount compared to the earnings of players within the top 100. 31-year-old Sofia Shapatava, who ranks 375th in women's singles, initiated a petition asking for aid from the ITF because of how tournament cancellation will affect her income. Before tournament cancellations began, she made only $3,300 in earnings in 2020. While players would typically help his or her coaching staff financially, in Shapatava's case, it is the opposite: her German coach is supporting her. The most she has earned from one event in 2020 is a meager $926.

In comparison, Federer earned $86.5 million in 2018 from prize money and endorsement deals. It is worth noting that Federer makes more money in four hours of sleeping than the average tennis player does in an entire year of competing. Former professional player Tim Bayotte has said that in order for a tennis professional to make a living wage, "a player needs to make $200,000 a year from prize money and/or endorsements." Given that the amount of players outside of the top 100 is considerably greater than those inside of the top 100, who make enough to sustain themselves, if the ATP, WTA, and ITF want to ensure that players will be able to return to the tours after the pandemic, the three sports bodies need to give financial help to those who need it. The stark difference between the salary of the top players and the lower-level players has become even more apparent during the pandemic, as well as the problem that many tennis players are unprotected and forgotten by the tennis governing bodies. The ITF, as of April 9, released an online statement, claiming it was working towards "implementing a series of measures which include…a job protection scheme for employees and the utilization of funds from ITF reserves." However, since that announcement, the ITF has done virtually nothing to support players, and many likely cannot wait any longer for financial aid. The only thing the ITF has done to "help" was David Haggerty's urging players to seek government assistance in their home countries where possible. In addition, David Simon, Chairman and chief executive officer of the WTA, also said: "We wish there was a way everyone, especially those in need the most, could be compensated at the level they were expecting but the needs are so great and the WTA unfortunately is not in a financial position to do that." It is evident that no effort has been made or will be made to respond to Shapatava's petition for financial aid.

In these unprecedented times, even if cancelling events might keep fans and players safe from the virus, it is just as crucial for sports governing bodies to subsidize the players, as many were blindsided by the suspension of tournaments and are now struggling to make ends meet. The impact of COVID-19 on the tennis world has revealed a long-standing inequality within the sport: the great pay disparity and lack of economic support has made it abnormally hard for these players to pursue their passion. In addition, other sports governing bodies should also learn that it is essential to listen to the players and respond when they ask for support because otherwise, continuing to play might not be financially viable.


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