Four Corners this Monday night looks set to blow the lid on the game of television, the Australian Open and Tennis Australia.
Reporter Debbie Whitmont talks to Tennis Australia about whether it still cares about the game or television ratings.
Four Corners claims leading Australian tennis stars are now openly questioning who is controlling tennis, and who is profiting the most.
In recent years Australian TV viewers have questioned Channel Seven programming decisions which see games delayed for News, current affairs and drama, with viewers outside Daylight Saving time especially furious at decisions to hold key matches.
Four Corners also claims to have “significant evidence that power has been centralised into the hands of just a few tennis administrators.”
Of course Seven is not alone in questions about its tennis broadcast. The ABC is yet to declare the future of the Hopman Cup in Perth, but it is unlikely to raise those questions in Four Corners.
Nevertheless, it sounds like mandatory viewing for all those tennis fans who were screaming in summer.
In January this year Australia’s top ranked female tennis player Samantha Stosur found her much anticipated match against Serena Williams dumped from the prime time television schedule. Network Seven decided news, current affairs and a soapie were more likely to provide ratings.
Tennis Australia, the body with the job of promoting the sport in Australia, didn’t argue. Instead it stood to pocket a healthy bonus for Network Seven’s ratings victory but the episode left a major question hanging over the sport.
Debbie Whitmont: “Do you think the people who run the game really care about it? Really care about the sport?
Lleyton Hewitt: “Ah, I’m not sure. I don’t know”.
Lleyton Hewitt isn’t the only one wondering whether the people who run the sport of tennis really care about the game. A virtual who’s who of Australian tennis past and present are now openly questioning the way Tennis Australia has restructured the sport in this country, and who is benefiting from the changes.
The critics claim that Tennis Australia has centralised the control of the sport in an attempt to improve the game’s bottom line but has forgotten about the players in the process. As one respected player manager put it:
“Tennis Australia seems to be wanting control over everything that happens in this country with regards to tennis. Any financial dealing in this country, Tennis Australia wants to have a piece of it… and that’s wrong.”
Tennis Australia’s Director of Tennis, Craig Tiley, rejects this view:
“Right from the beginning we’ve been accused of being too controlling and wanting to have it only our way or the highway. Those are all just simply not true.”
Despite this assurance, Four Corners has uncovered significant evidence that power has been centralised into the hands of just a few tennis administrators. According to those who know the sport, this means players are not getting the best coaches available and critics are frozen out.
The main independent coaches association has been “absorbed” into Tennis Australia. The country’s “tennis bible” – Australian Tennis Magazine – has been bought out. Even the kids’ tennis charity has been scuppered.
Discontent in tennis clubs around the country is increasing. One club has been told it must install a certain type of court surface or face the prospect of losing its tournament. Why is just one surface favoured and who benefits from the installation of this type of court?
The questions don’t end there. This week, Four Corners explores allegations that when former tennis star and respected sports administrator, Paul McNamee, challenged for the Presidency of Tennis Australia last year, powerful figures close to the current administration told voting delegates that if McNamee won the job government funding for the country’s premier tennis facility would be endangered and Channel 7’s broadcast deal might be in jeopardy.
Reporter Debbie Whitmont talks to Tennis Australia about the allegations, about its blue-print for future tennis success and the results it has achieved so far.
Four Corners: The State of Play airs on Monday 1st March at 8.30pm on ABC1. It is replayed on Tuesday 2nd March at 11.35pm and also available online.