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