Tennis requires leaders not amateurs at the top
David Haggerty’s re-election as the head of the sport’s world governing body is not what is needed, writes Simon Briggs
Haggerty and his pals shrugged off the outright disaster of the Transition Tour
Is tennis the sick man of world sport? That was the message coming out of yesterday’s International Tennis Federation conference in Lisbon, which reconfirmed David Haggerty in the fuzzy yellow equivalent of the post that Sepp Blatter filled for so many years.
Tennis reckons such ultimate professionals as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams among its active participants. And yet many of its administrators are so amateurish you would hesitate to let them run your local park courts.
One thing you hear no one say is “What a great job the ITF is doing!”, but that did not stop Haggerty, who has spent the past four years sparking all manner of fusses and controversies, from winning this presidential election with a 60 per cent vote share.
His three rivals – Anil Khanna of India, Dave Miley of Ireland and Ivo Kaderka of the Czech Republic – thus tallied just 40 per cent between them. “This election was all about the evil of lessers,” said one observer with a smirk.
As with Fifa, the obstinacy of the electorate provokes a challenging thought experiment: what would it take to dislodge the ruling faction?
Haggerty and his pals shrugged off the outright disaster of the Transition Tour, in which hundreds of less-well-paid players lost their rankings points overnight. They breezed through the effective sale of the Davis Cup to an unproven consortium for a 25-year term. No, as long as the ITF incumbent stops short of dropping a doodlebug on the All England Club, he or she can parlay home-field advantage into a job for life.
Nobody rated Haggerty’s predecessor Francesco Ricci Bitti either. Yet he served four straight terms, from 1999 to 2015, and wound up with a cushy post within the Olympic movement: the holy grail of sports administration.
When the Lawn Tennis Association addressed this issue by email on Thursday, it seemed for a minute as if it might say something decisive. “We are deeply concerned about the governance of the sport [and] the role of the ITF,” it began.
And yet, by the end of that very paragraph, you could sense the author being overcome by ennui. The statement limped to a close, mumbling that “now is [not] the right time for a radical change in regime”, as if desperate to make it to the bar for a stiff double. International tennis politics can have that effect on you.
For it is not just the ITF which is pathologically disappointing. The whole scene is fractured, and – in the words of Wimbledon chairman Philip Brook – riven by “more unilateral behaviour and discord among the governing bodies than I’ve seen in 20 years”. The four majors are tennis’s great asset: internationally recognised showpieces, each with its own distinctive atmosphere. But they grew by working together. Now they have become mega-events, they all think they can go it alone, so that London, Paris, Melbourne and New York each has its own rules and scoring system.
Meanwhile, the Association of Tennis Professionals – which runs the men’s tour – will have no chief executive after Jan 1, and is dealing with a breakaway movement of 80 players who want to negotiate directly with the slams.
This sport, according to an interview Miley gave this week, is a $22 billion (£17.9 billion) industry. Equipped with one coordinated governing body, tennis would be enjoying a golden era. But this is not the way it is played. Instead, world tennis feels like a giant doubles match in which everyone is out for themselves.
Back in: David Haggerty remains as ITF president