London | Doubts persist over proposed Davis Cup revamp
The ITF Conference & AGM, which is being held in Orlando, Florida from 13-16 August, looks to be controversial at best, or scandalous at worst, depending on your perspective.
One of the four pillars of the Federation, Tennis Australia, has broken ranks and publicly rejected the planned radical revamp of the Davis Cup through a strongly worded letter confirming that it plans to ‘vote against the proposed amendments’.
In light of the absence of crucial information, Tennis Australia will oppose the current proposed changes to the Davis Cup. We cannot agree to throw away the 118 years of history without absolutely understanding, in detail, where it takes us, Tennis Australia
The ITF is hoping its proposal to transform the 118-year-old men’s competition into an 18-team season finale will be given the green light by the representatives of its 210 affiliated National Associations in Orlando, but Tennis Australia’s letter, addressed to the President, Board and CEOs of Davis Cup Nations, states that it will not be endorsing the ITF’s World Cup of Tennis Finals scheduled for November 2019.
Tennis Australia says there is no clarity over the 25-year, $3 billion partnership to stage the event with investment group Kosmos.
The letter has been signed by Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley plus several former Australia Davis Cup captains, including incumbent Lleyton Hewitt, as well as four past and present Tennis Australia senior officials, including former ITF President Brian Tobin.
“We have written and spoken to the ITF President for several months now requesting clarity on the proposal from Kosmos, but this has not been forthcoming,” said the letter.
“Very large numbers are being referenced, but there is not enough detail to give us confidence this proposal will genuinely deliver … in the absence of such important information, we have no choice other than to vote against the proposed amendments.”
Tennis Europe, which represents 50 member nations, also opposes the proposal.
“I am particularly concerned that there is hardly any information received from the ITF regarding bank guarantees for the proposed US$120 million per year,” Tennis Europe President Vladimir Dmitriev said in a separate letter.
“I have not yet seen a final and feasible explanation on how the business model or the governance structure will be.
“Many questions have been put forward: has the due diligence audit been updated after the withdrawal of the ATP and the players? Why are the discussions about $41 million dollar guarantees and not about $120 million dollars?
“What is the worst-case scenario, if we discover in a few years that the business model doesn’t work, and Kosmos opts out of the deal?
“These are all very good questions and until they are answered satisfactorily, I cannot see the real benefit for European nations, or for tennis in general, as a result of the deal in the proposed format.”
The ITF’s shake-up of the Davis Cup has been further undermined by the men’s governing body, the ATP, announcing plans to introduce a rival World Team Cup, a men’s event offering $15 million in prize money plus ranking points.
The new competition is expected to be a part of the build-up to January’s Australian Open.
Last month the ITF accused the ATP of not working together ‘in a beneficial and positive way for the whole of tennis’, and the prospect of staging two rival team competitions within a few weeks in a crowded men’s calendar is now dividing the players.
A smaller World Team Cup was previously held from 1978 to 2012 in Duesseldorf, Germany, but offered no ranking points.
With traditionalists mourning the loss of the home-and-away format at the Davis Cup that can generate partisan atmospheres, the situation remains a mess.
“In light of the absence of crucial information, Tennis Australia will oppose the current proposed changes to the Davis Cup. We cannot agree to throw away the 118 years of history without absolutely understanding, in detail, where it takes us,” the Tennis Australia letter said.
“Most of our player and past player resistance to this proposal comes from changes to the very essence of what they see is the greatness of Davis Cup competition,” the letter added.
“Stripping away the best of five sets, cutting three days to two and losing the majority of the home and away component is effectively making it an entirely different, and in our view, a less compelling competition.
“This is too much change all at once to get support and buy in from the player group.
The ITF hit back at the accusations, saying it is confident the new plans will deliver long-term benefits to players, nations and sponsors and adding that the Davis Cup’s new guise as the World Cup of Tennis will safeguard the future of the sport as it is being set up in a 25-year, $US3 billion ($A4.1 billion) partnership with investment group Kosmos and the backing of Wimbledon, French and US Open officials.
“The ITF has travelled extensively to consult with all stakeholders in tennis and incorporated their feedback to develop a reform package for the Davis Cup which delivers long-term benefits for players, nations, fans, sponsors and broadcasters,” the ITF said in a statement on Saturday.
“Rigorous due diligence has been undertaken by independent experts and the ITF has complete confidence in its partners, Kosmos, to deliver these transformational reforms.”
The prospect of staging two rival team competitions within a few weeks in a crowded men’s calendar, however, has put the ITF and ATP on a collision course as many players may well opt to compete in only one of the events.
“We are focused on more than protecting the interests of any one nation; we are focused on doing what is best for the whole of tennis,” the ITF said.
“The reforms the ITF is proposing will secure the Davis Cup’s long-term status.
“The ITF… is the only body in tennis that invests in the future development of tennis and the Davis Cup is critical to generating the revenue to fund this development.”
Meanwhile, American businessman Larry Ellison is set to become an investor in the Davis Cup reform project that Kosmos is developing in partnership with the ITF.
In a letter published on 6 August through his official website, Ellison announced his support for the reform programme that will be voted on at next week’s AGM.
“I readily embrace innovative ideas and opportunities which is why I am not only lending my written support, but will also become an investor in this competition.”
Larry Ellison, who owns the Indian Wells Tennis Garden facility in California as well as the Indian Wells Masters 1000 tournament, also expressed his support for the possibility of Indian Wells being a potential venue for the 2021 edition of the new competition.
Gerard Piqué, Kosmos President and Founder, said: “I personally want to publicly welcome Mr. Larry Ellison to this project, being an enormous privilege for us.
“We are very pleased and proud to join forces and have him financially backing our commitment for boosting and reinforcing the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas.
“The agreement reassures the sustainability and ambition of our engagement together with the ITF and I know it will be welcomed as a positive announcement for the global tennis community.”
Kosmos is partnering with the ITF ‘on this historic and ambitious roadmap to reform the Davis Cup that will create a unique season-ending finale with 18 tennis nations and their tennis stars performing in a world class city and venue’.
The proposal remains to be ratified by national associations on 16 August in Orlando at the ITF AGM.
Kosmos, a company founded and chaired by the professional football player Piqué, and backed by Hiroshi Mikitani, Chairman and CEO of Rakuten, is currently building a global portfolio of sports, media and entertainment ventures, leveraging strategic synergies across forms of content, platforms, technologies and geographies.
It remains to be seen whether tradition can prevail over the seduction of mega-bucks.