WTA president talks about money, China and why tennis needs more female coaches

FORT WORTH – The WTA Finals, the elite end-of-season tennis tournament, was supposed to take place in Shenzhen, China, for 10 years and fill the coffers of the WTA.

It didn’t work as planned.

China’s “zero covid” policy It continues to keep almost all international sporting events out of the country. Even if China reopens, women’s tennis has suspended all tournaments in the country, which was once one of its major markets, due to Unresolved concerns about Chinese tennis star Peng Shuaiwho last year accused a former senior Chinese government official of sexual assault.

“We’ve taken a strong stand, we stand behind that stand, and we’re not going to compromise our principles,” Steve Simon, WTA board chair and CEO, said in an interview. “Obviously when we did, we understood what that might mean with eyes wide open.”

Last year’s WTA Finals were moved to Guadalajara, Mexico. This year’s event, which was due to end Monday night, was staged in short order at Fort Worth’s 14,000-seat Dickies Arena with attendance built from woefully low levels early in the tournament to humble but enthusiastic crowds approaching 6000 people. In some subsequent sessions.

Some coaches and players, including top seed Iga Swiatek, said they understand the challenges but were disappointed with the turnout. Swiatek, who lost to seventh seed Aryna Sabalenka in the semifinals on Sunday, pointed to the huge prize money gap between the WTA Finals, which offers $5 million, and the men’s equivalent tournament, the ATP Finals, which begins on Sunday In Turin, Italy, it will showcase a record $14.75 million event.

Showcased the 2019 WTA Finals, the only time the tournament has so far been held in Shenzhen $14 million in prize moneywhich is $5 million more than the 2019 men’s event in London.

“It is very sad that Covid is a WTA type and there was no place to play before and everything was properly organized,” Swiatek said. “But on the other hand, you have the example in the ATP that they were able to do everything and even increase the prize money. So, hopefully next time we can be somewhat more prepared.”

But the WTA has not relied too heavily on China, and at this point it seems unlikely that the WTA will soon return to the country where it held nine tournaments in 2019. China’s leader, Xi Jinping, has doubled down on the “zero COVID” policy. Finally a month, Simon reconfirmed in Fort Worth that the tour The suspension of tournaments in China will not be lifted Until a credible and transparent investigation is conducted into Bing’s allegations, which were Made in November 2021 On her Chinese social media account, as well as an opportunity for tour operators to communicate with her independently.

“We’re still in the same place,” Simon said. “If they come forward with something else we should look at, of course we are open to it. But we haven’t seen it yet. I hope we will find a solution. That is the point, to find the right solution. What is the truth? Then we can move on.”

Ping, one of the 2014 US Open semi-finalists who appeared in public During the Winter Olympics in Beijing In February, she has since retracted the assault allegations, citing a misunderstanding. The 36-year-old announced her retirement earlier this year. But the WTA is still not convinced of his ability to act and speak freely and he is still unable to make direct contact with her.

“We know she’s safe, she’s in Beijing and she’s doing well,” Simon said. “We didn’t talk to her directly.”

Simon said that if the stalemate continues, the Tour will seek a long-term solution to the finals Traditionally a major source of income. Instead, the WTA had had to offer $5 million in prize money in Guadalajara and again in Fort Worth: a major downturn from Shenzhen offers everything in 2019.

Simon said there is more interest from prospective cities to organize the event on a multi-year basis due to the economy. He said securing the sites for one year was a challenge despite going to market in March of this year. Despite welcoming Fort Worth and its modern arena, advertising it so late in the season made it difficult to promote (as it did in the Texas football season).

“We’re not going to keep making these decisions for one year,” Simon said. “It’s not sustainable. If it looks like we can’t go back to China or aren’t ready to go back, I think we’ll put in a multi-year situation, because we need that in order to work.”

Women’s Tennis Association Signed a new title sponsor, Hologicin 2022 which provided significant funding, some up front, but the round has continued to look for other investors and is now in exclusive, forward negotiations with CVC Capital Partners, a Luxembourg-based private equity firm that could take a stake in the round and help fill the awards gap. The finances that Swiatek complained about.

“It’s just a very complex business decision and a business move that we need to work through,” Simon said, stressing that the deal, if struck, would not further complicate running a sport already mired in governing bodies.

Although the four Grand Slam tournaments and many other higher-level events combined, such as the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, offer equal prize money for men and women, the gap between many of the independent events for men and women has widened.

“When are people really going to start coming up and following up?” Simon said. “They say one thing about supporting math, esports, leagues and the need to invest, but when it comes to stepping up and approaching it the same way and investing it just doesn’t happen.”

Although the merger with the ATP, the idea that was recently floated during the hiatus of tennis in 2020 at the beginning of the Corona virus pandemic, did not materialize, there is a growing cooperation, symbolized by the Fed Cup, the new men’s and women’s team event in Australia In January, that was the only tournament previously the ATP Cup and would qualify for the Australian Open.

But major equity issues remain, including The constant lack of training for women. The WTA said there are only six working full-time with the WTA’s top 100 singles players and the top 50 doubles players. The case is complicated. Women have always been more resistant to year-round travel, and male coaches often still act as partners who beat female professionals, thus performing two roles and saving money. But Simon sees bias too, and the WTA launched an initiative last week to increase those paltry numbers, offering an online certification course and opportunities for coaches and players during tournaments.

“I think you’re dealing again with one of those stigmas,” Simon said. “I hope we can recruit more women and have more women after they finish playing or pass the practice classes so that they can continue to climb up and be part of the Tour.”

Simon said the WTA will soon appoint a new director of protection: a topic at the forefront of women’s sports with last month. Investigative report on the Women’s National Football League Detecting sexual misconduct and coercion by coaches.

In tennis, Pierre Potter was the former coach of the leading French tennis player Fiona Ferro He was charged earlier this year in France with rape and sexual assault against Ferro When she was a teenager.

Simon said of protecting players from abuse: “It’s an important issue on the Tour, and it transcends the sport.

The WTA has existing programs that focus on player education, background checks, and coach certification. But Simon and other tennis leaders believe the sport should do more collectively. He said the International Tennis Integrity Agency, the independent body that investigates doping and corruption in the game, could add protections to its portfolio.

“It’s exploratory at the moment but serious,” said Simon, who said involving the agency would allow for coordinated stewardship across “the entire sport” from the beginner level to the Pro Tour.

“That’s not the case now, everyone is doing what they can to the best of their ability,” Simon said. “One of the educational pieces is that we need to help ourselves. If you see that, you need to report it, so we can respond to it versus just dealing with rumours, because it’s a very sensitive topic, and it’s hard to get people to come forward.”

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