Conflict of interest abounds in the incestuous world of professional tennis.
After the Israeli doubles team of Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram won the Australian Open in January, the ATP asked them to play the tournament in Dubai. The Arab emirates of Qatar and Dubai are a big deal in professional tennis. Both the ATP and the WTA have a tournament in each country and the WTA will move its year-end championships to Qatar for the next three years.
Shahar Peer was the first Israeli to play in the area when she played the WTA Doha event in February – Doha is Qatar’s largest city. Everything went swimmingly but she did take a bodyguard with her just in case. Qatar is one of the most liberal countries in the area but Dubai is a different story.
Israeli citizens cannot get visas to go to Dubai and, as I understand it, a passport with an Israeli stamp (meaning that the holder has visited Israel) will also keep you from getting a visa. I have a friend in Italy who had an Israeli stamp in her passport. In order to travel to Dubai, she had to get a new passport.
The scene was thus set for Erlich and Ram to do Dubai. Their manager, Norman Canter, flew to Dubai two days before the tournament started. Erlich and Ram were all set to fly to Dubai the next day. Canter met with the tournament director and the assistant tournament director but Erlich and Ram never took the flight to Dubai. What happened? In Canter’s words:
From that point on, I’m not making any comments. You can talk to the boys [Erlich and Ram], you can talk to the ATP, you can talk to Allah, to can talk to God, you can talk to Moses, you can talk to Jesus, and you’re not gonna get a lot of answers. And hopefully, some day, the human rights issue, which is what it’s about, will be rectified. It’s 5700 years, I don’t have any hope.
I don’t know what happened 5700 years ago. Tennis journalist Joel Drucker suggested that it might have been the year Joseph was refused entry to the Cairo Open thus demonstrating that a sense of humor is necessary in the face of centuries of conflict.
No one’s saying but it looks like the organizers of the Dubai tournament couldn’t get visas for the players. Erlich and Ram refuse to talk about the incident. Canter did say that he hadn’t planned to go to Indian Wells last week but he traveled there to take up the Dubai issue with the ATP.
Norman Canter is an interesting guy. He made his first million in his twenties designing packaging for Revlon Cosmetics. He moved on to safety equipment, then the oil business and, after that, energy conservation. He says he introduced the first fluorescent light bulb to the U.S. in 1985.
In 1994 Canter got involved in tennis management so that he and his partner, Richard DeVries, could, as he put it, “give people an opportunity to live their dream.” He also views himself as someone who is “trying to right the wrongs that are in tennis and fighting a losing battle.” In his view, tennis is an extremely corrupt sport.
What’s he talking about? Let’s start with Donald Young. A few days ago I mentioned that Young lost 11 straight ATP matches at one point. At the time, he was a client of IMG, the huge sports management company that represents players and owns tennis academies, tennis media, and tennis tournaments. Four of Young’s 11 losses came as a wild card entry in the tournaments at Miami and Indian Wells. IMG owns the Miami tournament and used to own half of the Indian Wells tournament.
If the same company represents the players and owns the events, who does it work for: the player or the event? Young suffered a confidence crisis in his budding career as his management kept feeding him to the lions and he kept losing. IMG certainly didn’t represent Young very well in that case.
IMG shouldn’t have trouble getting wild cards for any of its clients because it also works for the ATP. One of its subsidiaries markets the broadcast rights to the Masters Series events. IMG not only represents players and owns events, it also works directly for the tour.
The ATP has a similar conflict of interest. It used to be the players union but now it represents both the players and the ATP tournaments. You can see where the ATP’s interests lie when they sell a tournament to Dubai even though Israeli players can’t play in it. Clearly the ATP was representing tournaments, not its players. The ATP deserves credit for pushing political change in Dubai, but it’s doubtful that political change was the guiding principle when the ATP accepted Dubai’s bid to buy a tournament.
Here’s a scary thought. IMG owns the Miami tournament and Canter said he heard that the tournament in Miami was up for sale. My stomach flipped when I heard that. What if a foreign country buys it? Could we lose our third largest event after the U.S. Open and Indian Wells? I haven’t been able to verify Canter’s information and even if a foreign country does buy Miami, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll move the tournament.
Doha owns part of the Masters Series event in Hamburg and it still resides in Germany. That part ownership, though, could be causing some problems for the ATP because Doha has some very deep pockets built up from its oil economy. The Hamburg tournament is currently suing the ATP to avoid losing it Masters Series designation and according to Canter, the ATP has spent $8 million dollars in legal fees on the case so far.
The tournament in Monte Carlo is also being demoted and the organizers of the tournament also sued the ATP. Monte Carlo accepted a settlement that keeps its Masters Series designation but drops it from the list of required tournaments. Would Monte Carlo have settled the case if it had Doha’s deep pockets backing it up?
Canter’s management company, Renaissance Tennis Management, currently represents Erlich and Ram, Benjamin Becker, junior player Lera Solovieva, and a few other players trying to make their way up the tennis rankings. It’s a small, independent management company at this point and Canter probably feels like he’s tilting at windmills given the nature of the tennis world, but IMG also started small so there is hope.
And if Canter’s management company does grow into a large organization, maybe Canter will have the opportunity to right some of those wrongs.