By William O'CONNELL
Despite their reputation as “the governing body of tennis,” over the years, the ITF has seen their influence slowly transfer to the ATP, WTA, and the Grand Slams. The 2018 Annual Meeting (AGM) saw the ITF progress from a position of oversight to taking on a more proactive role in promoting and developing world tennis. National tennis representatives gathered in Orlando, Florida under the theme of “delivering tennis for future generations” to weigh-in on momentous proposals for the future of their sport. Noteworthy outcomes from this year’s AGM were the historic changes to the Davis Cup format, the introduction of the ITF World Ranking to the Transition Tour, and the increased inclusivity ushered by changes to Class B and C membership.
To combat the declining player participation and audience viewership, as well as dissuade encroachment from the ATP in teams event formats, the ITF members have voted in the most radical changes to the Davis Cup format in the event’s 118 year history. The ITF has partnered with soccer star Gerard Pique and Kosmos to revamp the current format to an eighteen team World Group divided into six pools, competing in a week-long event. The contract with Kosmos is set to release $25m for tennis development, $15m per year in operational funds and $20m in prize money.
While most nations would agree that change was required for the survival of Davis Cup, many nations were hesitant to commit to such a drastic departure from its traditional format. Grand Slam nations, Australia and the UK opposed changes based on this regard. Moreover, home and away ties provide a vital source of inspiration to juniors as well as generate revenue for countries unable to host the world’s best players. Although voting is confidential, it is assumed proponents for change largely emanated from South America, Central America & Caribbean, Asia, Africa, and Oceania regions, whose development needs trump the benefits from exposure to the highest level of the game. Kosmos asserts among the formats simulated, including the current, the new format is the most attractive to the players, spectators, and sponsors.
Another area of concern addressed at the AGM was the withdrawal of the ATP and WTA from entry and transitionary level professional tournaments. The ITF has adopted responsibility for these events and will introduce their own ranking system in 2019, which the ATP and WTA will recognize and work alongside. ITF World Ranking points earned on the ITF Pro Circuit will be used in conjunction with WTA and ATP points to determine entry into upper echelon events. The ITF’s efforts will allow more players to subside on the tour as well as bridge the competitive gap from juniors to professionals, allowing better prepared players to feed into the highest level of the sport.
Finally, national associations will benefit from changes in subscription costs for Class C nations. Membership fees have been reduced from $767 to $250 in 2019 to attract more nations to join the ITF. Class B membership in 2019 stands at $5460. The higher membership cost includes a single voting share, solitary Davis and Fed Cup opportunities, and other perks which enticed Guam to make the transition in 2016 and compete in 2018’s Davis Cup competition. The hefty price tag on Class B membership is softened by a $3500 rebate spent on development in accordance with the ITF.
ITF President, David Haggerty has pushed for inclusivity since taking office in late 2015. This was evident in the record number of delegates in attendance at this year’s AGM. However, this year’s event was about the ITF securing a foothold in tennis’ shifting political landscape. According to Haggerty and his board, the cost of inaction outweighed the risks associated with change and is a necessary step in securing tennis for future generations. All eyes will be on Lisbon, Portugal who will host the 2019 AGM for an official review of these monumental changes.