New Cana­dian ten­nis stars can’t have their cake and eat it, too

The Peterborough Examiner - - OPINION - AMIR BARNEA Amir Barnea is an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of fi­nance at HEC Mon­tréal.

In a truly un­be­liev­able run this past week, the Cana­dian men’s ten­nis team made history by reach­ing the fi­nals of the Davis Cup — the pres­ti­gious119-year old “World Cup of Ten­nis” tour­na­ment.

On Satur­day, min­utes af­ter the heroic qual­i­fi­ca­tion, Ten­nis Canada tweeted: “We did it. They did it. Canada did it.” — sig­nalling com­plete align­ment be­tween the coun­try and its ten­nis he­roes.

And in­deed, watch­ing the play­ers hug­ging and jump­ing in a cir­cle to­gether af­ter each vic­tory, one could re­ally feel a sense of Cana­dian pride. It is clear that the ten­nis stars are de­lighted to play for their coun­try, and en­joy the sup­port and love of Cana­di­ans in the au­di­ence and back home.

I hate to ruin the party, but one piece in that puz­zle of Cana­dian ten­nis eu­pho­ria is com­pletely off: the four ten­nis stars in the team’s lineup all of­fi­cially re­side in tax havens, avoid­ing pay­ing taxes to the coun­try they love so much.

De­nis Shapo­valov and Vasek Pospisil “live” in the Ba­hamas, while Félix Auger Alias­sime and Mi­los Raonic of­fi­cially re­side in Monte Carlo (Raonic had to with­draw from the fi­nal due to an in­jury and was re­placed by Bray­den Sch­nur, who re­sides in Canada).

As I watch th­ese ten­nis su­per­stars play for “Team Canada” with so much pas­sion, I won­der how they ra­tio­nal­ize their de­ci­sion to re­side in a tax haven. Can’t they see the con­tra­dic­tion? What is the story that they tell them­selves? That it’s a com­mon prac­tice among many other ten­nis play­ers? That taxes in Canada are high, and they would be “suck­ers” to pay them? Or maybe they con­vince them­selves that they “de­serve” to get away with it like many other rich peo­ple do.

Some would stand in their de­fence and say: “Oh, give them a break. AugerAlias­sime and Shapo­valov are just 19 or 20 years old. It is their agents or their par­ents who make fi­nan­cial calls on their be­half.”

But we shouldn’t. Be­cause be­ing a ten­nis su­per­star and play­ing un­der the Cana­dian flag also comes with re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. They are Cana­dian icons whether they want it or not and they should look no fur­ther than an­other ten­nis icon — Bianca An­dreescu — to learn some­thing about ethics.

De­spite her tremen­dous suc­cess this year, win­ning three ma­jor WTA ti­tles, in­clud­ing the U.S. Open and mak­ing more than US$ 6.5 mil­lion in prize money alone, the young ath­lete still re­sides in Thorn­hill, and pays taxes like you and me. That is the choice of a real role model.

The un­eth­i­cal, yet le­gal tax avoid­ance of Canada’s high­est-earn­ing play­ers (save An­dreescu) is also re­lated to the on­go­ing de­bate about tax jus­tice in Canada and around the world.

De­mands for a wealth tax on the rich were made in re­cent Cana­dian elec­tions as well as by some lead­ing can­di­dates of the Demo­cratic party in the U.S.

Ten­nis Canada spent about $15 mil­lion on ten­nis devel­op­ment in 2018. Imag­ine what else could have been achieved if only the prize money of about $31 mil­lion col­lected by Canada’s top four play­ers — Raonic-Shapo­val­ovAug­ger Alias­sime-Pospisil — had been taxed.

Lastly, it is dis­ap­point­ing that Ten­nis Canada doesn’t see any wrong­do­ing in the play­ers’ ac­tions. While the or­ga­ni­za­tion should get a lot of credit for build­ing a ten­nis na­tion in Canada, it is simply un­ac­cept­able that it gives false informatio­n on its web­site and lists the play­ers who re­side in tax havens as if they still live in Canada.

Our Cana­dian ten­nis he­roes are rep­re­sent­ing the coun­try with pride and pas­sion, but they want to eat the cake and have it too. They need to choose.

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