Delegates from the world’s national tennis associations are in Lisbon, Portugal, this week for the 2019 ITF Conference and Annual General Meeting.
Dave Haggerty has had 4 years. Relationships are worse. The customers are pissed off. He’s had his chance. Give me a chance. I can run the company Dave Miley
The three-day event includes the elections of the ITF President and Board of Directors for the 2019-2023 term during the AGM, which takes place tomorrow, on Friday, 27 September, the results of which will be live-streamed on ITFTennis.com as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
Attendance at the 2019 ITF AGM and Conference is said to be higher than ever before, with delegates from a record 155 nations present this year, surpassing the 144 nations represented at the 2018 AGM, and up from 116 nations just two years ago.
The Conference includes a panel discussion entitled ‘Future-proofing our sport in an era of accelerated transformation’, as well as an update on the ITF2024 strategy featuring presentations on Davis Cup, Fed Cup, global tennis development.
The key items on the agenda during Friday’s AGM, however, are the elections of the ITF President and Board of Directors for 2019-23.
On Friday, David Haggerty will hope to fight off challenges from Ireland’s Dave Miley, India’s Anil Khanna and Czech Republic’s Ivo Kaderka to retain his seat as one of the most powerful men in tennis.
The American is considered the favourite, although each candidate will tell you they’re going to win, despite his 4-year stint as ITF chief being steeped in controversy.
Voting in the Presidential Election begins at 08:30 local time (07:30 GMT).
A candidate requires more than 50% of the vote to be elected, with second and third rounds conducted if that is not obtained.
The elections for the Board of Directors will take place later in the day, with delegates selecting 14 Board members.
The candidates with the highest number of votes will be e
lected, subject to geographical criteria that ensures all regions are properly represented.
Miley is hopeful he can oust Haggerty and believes the Presidency is up for grabs with 3 candidates running against Haggerty.
“The illustration that people are not happy in the ITF is, for the first time in recent history, there are 3 people running against the incumbent,” Miley told Metro.co.uk.
“There’s 32 people running for the board. It shows a lot of people around the ITF should not be there. It shows not a lot of happiness around the ITF.
“I see it that I’m very confident I’ll be in the top-two [after the first round of voting]. I could be one or I could be two. But I’m very confident I’ll be in the top-two.
“I have good support, people have looked me in the eye but you never know, maybe people are lying to me.
“I’m used to people telling me the truth, but you never know.
“I believe that Anil Khanna, Ivo Kaderka and myself all have one thing in common: we want to change the direction of the ITF. We don’t think the current administration is very effective.
“So, I’m confident that if I’m in the top-two that a lot of Anil Khanna’s supporters and Ivo Kaderka’s supporters will come and support me in the second round.
“Dave Haggerty has had 4 years. Relationships are worse. The customers are pissed off. He’s had his chance. Give me a chance. I can run the company.”
Miley has travelled to 70 countries, meeting 80 presidents of ITF nations and spending $100,000 of his own money to campaign.
Phone calls have been made at every opportunity, video presentations have been sent to member nations and his manifesto was released in 3 languages.
Miley has made no secret of his frustrations at the red tape placed around him and the other candidates by the newly-formed ethics committee, restrictions, he believes, strongly favour the incumbent.
One of the changes brought into this campaign is a shortening of the presentation format for candidates at the Lisbon AGM.
“In 2015, Dave and the other candidates got 30 minutes to present, this time I get 10 minutes with no questions. It’s quite incredible,” Miley laughs.
“They also told me no videos in my presentation and I have to give my powerpoint to his team 24 hours in advance.
“You couldn’t script it. You have to laugh.”
His manifesto motto ‘Together for Tennis-ITF Strong’ vows to bring the fractured bodies of the sport together, working in harmony to double the ‘$22 billion industry’ while ensuring the ITF get tough to earn more ‘respect’.
Miley is focused on the ‘bigger picture’, which stretches beyond the businesses such as ATP, WTA, ITF, Grand Slams and racket manufacturers, but also to the ‘customers’: the fans and the players.
There is no greater example, Miley believes, than the botched World Tennis Tour, which saw the ITF introduce a new dual-rankings system, only to scrap it after six months.
“After these 7 months, I think one of the biggest problems is the people working in so many of these organisations, their egos are bigger than the sport,” he adds.
The newly-formatted Davis Cup has been a bone of contention.
A deal with Barcelona centre-back Gerard Pique’s investment company Kosmos was rushed through by Haggerty and co., much to the annoyance to many of the member nations.
“Here’s the thing, Dave is a salesman,” Miley continues. “American salesmen are very concerned with the sale. It’s the most important thing.”
Haggerty came under further fire last week when an email from Tennis India was circulated to member nations, questioning why the ITF is still projected to operate at a loss in 2019 despite the $3 billion Kosmos deal.
Tennis India have been forced to release a statement defending Khanna over ‘fake’, ‘illegal’ and ‘invalid’ accusations of corruption, while questioning whether there are ‘extraneous vested interests behind this circulation’ just a week before the ITF elections are due to take place.
From a British perspective, a decision is still to be made over who will be backed.
While many in the LTA are keen to take a different direction, there is pressure from certain figures at Wimbledon to stick with Haggerty to allow him to complete the job he has started.
“I think Dave Haggerty will be re-elected, and I am very positive about that,” René Stammbach, an ITF Vice President who is also president of Switzerland’s tennis federation, said in an interview with the New York Times last week.
The ITF, based in London, is recognised as the sport’s official governing body by the International Olympic Committee, but it is hardly professional tennis’s only governing body, with the men’s tour, the women’s tour and the four Grand Slam tournaments all operating independently and with their own agendas, and often with much more revenue than the ITF.
Miley, a political novice who left his long-time post as the ITF.’s director of development shortly after Haggerty’s election, has been by far the most outspoken of the challengers.
He has experienced personal tragedy: His wife, Daisy, died suddenly in 2000 of a heart condition despite Miley’s efforts to revive her. Their three children were 6, 8 and 14.
A former satellite-level player, he has deep tennis connections.
His grandfather Jack Miley was Ireland’s first Davis Cup captain, in 1923, and also played at Wimbledon, where Miley now lives and is a member of the All England Club.
“The common theme from the nations I’ve spoken with, especially the more sophisticated ones, is that the ITF is weak compared to the tours and the Slams and the players,” he said.
Miley has criticised Haggerty’s leadership style and major decisions, particularly the significant changes to Davis Cup, the sport’s oldest team competition, and the aborted attempt to create a new transition-tour system for aspiring professional players in 2019.
“A disaster,” Miley said. “They spent over a million dollars and are more or less back to where they started, and nobody is accountable. Nobody was fired.”
The revamped Davis Cup is set to take place in Madrid in November.
Since its inception, in 1900, the Davis Cup has been based on a home-and-away system with matches played over best-of-five sets, but as part of a new and potentially lucrative agreement with Kosmos, the finals of the Cup will now involve 18 teams, including 2 wild-card teams, playing best-of-three-set matches head to head over a single week.
The change was approved by a two-thirds majority vote at last year’s ITF general meeting, but Miley claims that there is lingering resentment over how that election was handled and over the ITF’s decision to keep the new-look Cup in November rather than moving the event to September.
If it had been moved up two months, the event would have come soon after the United States Open and potentially clashed with the successful Laver Cup team event.
The US Open is run by the USTA, which is also an investor in the Laver Cup and one of Haggerty’s primary backers. He is a former President of both.
“Dave told people he would run Davis Cup in September, and that’s why many people voted for the change,” said Miley, who nonetheless intends to honour the Kosmos deal, if elected, and work toward a better format.
Piqué, in a recent interview, confirmed that the long-term plan is to shift the Cup finals to ‘better’ dates.
The new-look event has also received a boost with commitments from No 1 Novak Djokovic of Serbia and No 2 Rafael Nadal of Spain.
Miley believes change was necessary for Davis Cup, which was losing backing from some top players and sponsors but said Haggerty and the ITF Board had gone too far too quickly.
New revenue is one of Haggerty’s major arguments for re-election, but Friday’s vote will also be, in some manner, a referendum on the new Davis Cup and Fed Cup before they have been contested.
“Under Haggerty, we tripled the payouts to national federations,” Stammbach said, adding: “Sure, there are one or two issues where you can say he did not do a good job, but take the other 8 out of 10 things and he is performing brilliantly with his board.”
Miley believes the ITF can do better over all, and has made his arguments face to face with 80 federation Presidents, taking advice from the former British track star Sebastian Coe, who took a similarly peripatetic approach when he ran successfully for the Presidency of the IAAF, track and field’s global governing body, in 2015.
Miley, who speaks French and Spanish, hired Vero Communications, the same firm that Coe used in his campaign.
He deployed $30,000 of the funds that came his way in January when the All England Club, which runs Wimbledon, paid out the equivalent of about $120,000 to each member of the Wimbledon Park Golf Club to complete an early buyout of the club’s lease for Wimbledon’s own expansion.
By then Miley had been contacted by a small group of national federation leaders who thought he would make a good outsider candidate.
“I got my kids together,” Miley said, “and said I was going to run for the presidency, what do you think? And I said, ‘Why not take 20, and we spend it? And I’ll use 100 for the campaign.’ And that’s what I’ve been doing, just blowing through it. I believe in destiny.”
Meanwhile, in Lisbon, delegates from the record 155 national tennis associations attending the meetings were challenged to continue driving change in the sport to keep pace with the rapid evolution of the global sporting landscape.
Welcoming the delegates to the conference in Lisbon, ITF President David Haggerty introduced the overarching theme of the conference: transforming tennis.
“Transforming means bringing about tangible, significant change,” he said. “It means delivering a step-change in the role, ambition and abilities of the ITF and member nations.
“So when we talk about transforming tennis, you can see that it is real, and it is already having a positive impact throughout the tennis world.”
Among the key reforms of recent years, the ITF has restructured both the Davis Cup and Fed Cup, with the new Finals formats making their debuts in Madrid in 2019 and Budapest in 2020 respectively.
He claimed that the revamped ITF World Tennis Tour Junior World Tennis Tour and World Tennis Ranking were introduced this in 2019 to provide a pathway from junior and entry-level tiers of the sport towards the ATP and WTA Tours, with many top juniors already reaping the benefits as they make their first strides into the senior ranks.
And the World Tennis Number was launched in July 2019, with the aim of helping players of all abilities worldwide to determine their individual level so they can identify opponents and competitions of an appropriate standard, leading to more competitive and enjoyable playing opportunities.
After a social media workshop with speakers from social media agency Livewire Sport, who work with the ITF, and Facebook on Wednesday morning, the theme of transformation continued during the afternoon sessions as Chief Operating Officer Kelly Fairweather discussed the shifts in the traditional federation model in an increasingly data-driven, digital and consumer-focused world.
“The need to transform is real, and urgent,” he urged in his summary of the findings of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations report into the future of global sport.
“When you look across all major sports and the rapid change and disruptions, the best place to start is by looking at young consumers and the different demands they are making on sports and leisure time.
“PWC lists shifting behaviour of the younger generation as the number one threat to the sports industry.
“Our content has to be increasingly innovative to appeal to fans who are digital-first in order to keep their attention. It’s clear to us that digital transformation will become a major focus in the coming years.”
“It’s not about if we have to transform, it’s how we have to transform,” host Annabel Croft echoed ahead of a panel discussion featuring Jennifer Bishop of Tennis Canada, Tennis Kenya’s Wanjiru Mbugua-Karani, Roger Davids of the Netherlands and Rithivit Tep of Tennis Cambodia shared their nations’ experiences, success stories and goals in growing the sport.
The debate touched on a range of subjects, from the challenges of retaining youngsters in sport after leaving school in the Netherlands, to the impact of affirmative efforts to form diverse committees that truly represents Kenya, as well as the framework that allowed a nation with 25 qualified coaches to target reaching 20,000 kids in Cambodia, and the issue of making tennis accessible to both urban and remote communities in Canada.
At the heart of each story, however, was one abiding theme: the passion for tennis is truly global.
“We were a war-torn nation, and to rebuild tennis in our country was extremely challenging,” Tep said of his own 25-year involvement Cambodia’s tennis renaissance since the sport was wiped out by the Khmer Rouge.
“But if we fast-forward, our programmes now engage 13,000 kids in tennis twice a week.”
In a rapidly changing world, the ITF is intent on future-proofing the sport, in step with the goals of the ITF’s fellow Olympic federations, as laid out by David Luckes of the IOC.
“We need to identify the trends, the threats and the opportunities within the world of tennis,” Luckes said.
“The pace of change within sport means all organisations will have to be mobile, flexible enough in their approach to be able to adapt to a changing landscape that we will all encounter.
“The IOC’s vision is aimed at delivering a better world through sport, and this will be very similar to many sporting organisations that aim to demonstrate the positive value that sport can offer to current and future generations,” he continued, before adding: “Athletes are the most valuable resource that any sports organisation can have.”