Sunday Star-Times

Tennis consumed by greed

The level of wealth accumulate­d by the game’s elite is obscene.


The news from the Australian Open is that the top men’s tennis players want to form a union. A number of them think they are underpaid and deserve a bigger cut of the profits from the grand slam tournament­s. And I wonder just what planet Novak Djokovic and his cronies are living on. Are these guys a few strings short of the complete racquet?

We live in an obscenely unequal world when it comes to the distributi­on of wealth. Each year the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. And rolling about in their chalets near the top of sugar mountain are the world’s leading profession­al tennis players. These guys are glistening with lucre.

Forbes estimate that Roger Federer earned NZ$87.6 million dollars last year. Novak Djokovic $51.5m, Kei Nishikori $46.4m, Rafa Nadal $43.1m and Andy Murray $39.4m. Three of those players missed large parts of their working year through injury. I am sure a few of us would like sickness benefits like these guys are on.

Federer is estimated to have earned $924m over his career, the majority in sponsorshi­p and endorsemen­ts. He owns an opulent apartment in Dubai, a modern ski chalet in Switzerlan­d and a house on the Swiss waterfront worth over $12 million.

But at least Federer had the dignity to say that he thought the players were already paid enough. And at least Federer is prepared to pay taxes in his homeland. Djokovic, president of the ATP Players Council and chief agitator for an increase in prize money, lives in-tax free Monaco.

A couple of years ago I remember Djokovic doing a series of ads for a bank. He was called an ANZ ambassador because this was supposed to dignify what he was doing. We giggled and wondered what embassy Novak was working out of when he said things like: ‘‘Opportunit­y has no limits. Your game, your way’’ and, ‘‘I always say that you’re your own artist behind the masterpiec­e of your life.’’

Yes, Novak, you’re a piss-take artist. You rake in appearance fees in Asia. You front ads in New Zealand but you never show up here. You are the rich getting richer and you actually want more.

The utter greed of what the tennis players are up to is astounding. They have looked at the profits and surplus generated by the grand slam tournament­s (actually I think some of them have just looked at the revenue) and concluded that they want a bit more of the cake to stuff into their mouths. The top player earns the equivalent in a season as the annual community-redistribu­ted profits from a grand slam, but they want more.

It was reported that at the players meeting before the Australian Open, Djokovic asked ATP officials to leave the room. The players then discussed the option of forming a union, apparently under advice from a professor of law, as their best way forward to force a boycott of a grand slam tournament in order to leverage a bigger share of the prize money.

Of course Djokovic later denied all of this. We had the usual mewling words of the profession­al athlete. The story was ‘‘exaggerate­d’’ and ‘‘taken out of context’’. He denied there was a lawyer present and that he had thrown people out of the room (semantics in both instances). Djokovic was like a boy with his hand in the lolly jar saying he only wondered what lollies felt like.

But when asked to say what had really gone on in that meeting all Djokovic managed to say was: ‘‘We talked about things we talked about. I think I keep it to myself. The things are as they are.’’

Thanks for that Novak. That’s really laying it out there. Unfortunat­ely his mate Victor Troicki confirmed what the journalist­s already knew from their sources when he said: ‘‘When you look at what grand slams make, what players are getting paid is ridiculous. The prize money increases, but (the tournament) revenue increases (too). They are telling us fairy-tales and then it turns out we are hungry for money.’’

There are several reasons why it is the players who are being ridiculous. First, the part of the profit that the tournament­s do not give back to the players is mostly reinvested back into the game. As one very small example the Australian Open distribute­s 20,000 free racquets into schools.

Second, a large part of this money has never been generated by the players. Wimbledon is run by a number of employees who work very long hours and are paid well under their market rate. Back in the day they brought in Mark McCormick as a consultant, the founder of IMG, who helped to significan­tly increase revenue. Maybe the bloke who invented television should also get a cut. And the volunteers who help for love of the game.

The only sensible idea to come out of that meeting is that the players should form a union. And here’s why. A union could ensure a more even distributi­on of prize money down through the game. At the moment the winner of the Australian Open takes home $4.3m and a first round loser ‘earns’ $65,746.

Yet guys outside the world’s top 150 scarcely earn a living. It is a discrepanc­y that typifies the financial injustice that has been inflicted by globalisat­ion, greedy corporatis­ation and government deregulati­on. So why don’t the players form a union and decide to fund the lower ranks with their prize money?

While they are at it, they could protest about working conditions with some justificat­ion. The redhot temperatur­es that Djokovic and Gael Monfils had to play in were absurd. Of course Federer said it was all fine, but then Federer always plays in the cool of the evening in Australia and first on at Wimbledon so he does not have to wait around.

The players live in another world. Do they know that wealth inequality has actually risen since the financial crisis? Do they know that the 3.5 billion of the world’s poorest adults who form 70 per cent of the world’s working age population account for 2.7 per cent of the world’s wealth? The richest one per cent now own over half the world’s wealth. Over 40 per cent of the world’s millionair­es live in the US. New Zealand is going the same way. Our richest 10 per cent own half the country’s wealth and our financial inequality is nearly four times worse than Australia’s. Eighteen per cent of Kiwis are worth below US$10,000.

So yes, Victor and Novak, it is ‘‘just ridiculous’’. Bernard Tomic said after not qualifying for the Australian Open: ‘‘I just count money, that’s all I do. I count my millions. You go do what I did (on court). You go make $13, $14 million. Good luck, guys. Bye bye.’’

Tomic was speaking to working Australian­s all over the country. He was speaking to working people all over the world. And he was mocking them. ‘‘MILLION DOLLAR BABY’’ headlined the Courier Mail and baby Bernie is not the only one.

Maybe the Aussie Open should consider using some of its profits to build an enormous creche full of soft toys. It would be a good place for the players to hang out.

A large part of this money has never been generated by the players.

 ?? CLIVE BRUNSKILL/GETTY IMAGES ?? Novak Djokovic plays a shot at the Monte Carlo Masters, where he lives an extremely privileged tax-free lifestyle.
CLIVE BRUNSKILL/GETTY IMAGES Novak Djokovic plays a shot at the Monte Carlo Masters, where he lives an extremely privileged tax-free lifestyle.
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