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Rio Tennis 2016

Why Tennis Shouldn’t Be in the Olympics

Yesterday I tweeted that Tennis shouldn't be in the Olympics. It was met with disagreement with many believing the Olympics is as big if not bigger than a Grand Slam. Unfortunately I think if you believe that you've bought into what the media write and what the modern players put out there as part of their PR fluff. As with all modern sport inclusion boils down to money. Tennis has the viewing figures and financial clout to benefit the IOC. It's the same reason golf has made the programme in Rio. That results in a B Level Tournament getting hyped up as a huge spectacle which fans buy into. But the truth is the players think differently, they know what they've trained for and it's not Olympic medals.

When tennis was reintroduced in 1988 at Seoul for the first time since 1924, the players thought it was a joke and withdrawals were rife. Pete Sampras didn't even play at Atlanta or Sydney when he'd have been huge favourite to scoop a Gold. He felt he wasn’t competing in anything special and that the Olympics were just another event in the tennis schedule. 32 years later and the real opinion amongst the players hasn't changed. In Rio this year there's no Raonic, no Berdych, no Isner, no Thiem, no Lopez, no Zverev and no Querrey to name but a few. All opting to miss the games to player other events or rest for the US Open Swing.

In fact the only thing that's changed in 2016 is Social Media, PR, money and sponsors. They make Olympic Tennis more of a draw to the top players. All the top stars have sponsor obligations to fulfil, the bait of national pride and the opinions of a nation to please. We're all fed Olympic hype from the press on a daily basis in the run up to the games. So imagine if Murray withdrew (from a non zika effected games which is a convenient excuse). He'd be facing a tough run in with the press and public back home. Or if Federer said “no thanks”. The Swiss would be hounded by the papers as the guy who misses Davis Cup every year and doesn't care about being part of Team Switzerland.

I know many of you will say oh look at how much it means to the players, how emotional it was in London. But that was the Wimbledon effect, you could hold any event at SW19 and it would retain a Grand Slam aura. The tennis in Rio holds no such prestige. Now I'm not suggesting every player doesn't want to play or there's no value in winning a medal. There's bound to be a thrill in participating and winning a Gold. But that shouldn't be used to justify inclusion. When deciding if Tennis should be there the acid test should be: is it the pinnacle of the sport? The answer is no. Four Grand Slams beat Five Rings. It's not even close.

Sam Querrey said it best:

I don’t necessarily think it maybe should be an Olympic sport. Some sports in the Olympics — that and golf — you know, I feel like maybe shouldn’t be there. It just wasn’t a priority of mine at all. We have four . . . Grand Slams. Those kind of take precedent. Those are the main focus for us.

The whole spirit of the Olympics is for amateur athletes to compete at the most prestigious event for their sport. Many athletes at Rio will have given up years of their lives to train for the chance to win an Olympic medal. If a track athlete or a swimmer win gold it's the absolute best they can accomplish in their discipline. Winning a medal in Tennis is not, it's a box ticked on the CV, a few days of exposure and nothing more. No player would swap a Grand Slam for a Gold, and they wouldn't relinquish a Masters 1000 for a medal.

Whilst Tennis will get TV viewers and has all the recogniseable stars to help the promote the games; the vast majority of athletes competing in Rio this year are amateurs. Many of them are taking time off work for a chance at glory and that's what the Olympics should be about.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

About Jonathan

Huge fan of Roger Federer - I'll pretty much try and watch all his matches from Grand Slam level right down to ATP 250. When I'm not watching or tweeting about tennis I play regularly myself and use this blog to share my thoughts on Fed and tennis in general.

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32 comments

  1. Not much opinion on this, I see this and Davis cup in similar level of importance.. Just the media/nationalty angle makes it bigger than it is… And no denying Roger and Nadal played their part on that…. At least I hope it brings lots of spectators/money in Rio…

    It kind of reminds me how they played in cricket in Commonwealth games…

  2. For me, the Olympics have always glorified track and field events, along with all aquatic events..etc and will continue to do so. Athletes in those sports compete in other world championships too, but lets be honest they barely get any attention and recognition in those events. Like I doubt many people even care about the Commonwealth Games. It is completely fair that these track and field events are the icon of the Games. The fact that they abolished ranking points this year really showcases the insignificance of tennis in the Olympics.

  3. Even though I like to see tennis at the Olympics, I agree with you Jonathan. Give the spotlight to the amateurs. Most of them have given up a lot to train and compete at that level.

    The tennis schedule is full enough with so many injuries because of the grueling calendar. The same with golf. Keep the pros at home.

    What’s with the Russians? And the IOC? Sorry for the clean athletetes.

    • Yeah and most of them will only compete at 1 games trying reach the pinnacle of the sport.

      Tennis at the OG just feels like “another tournament”. Get squash in there.

  4. “The whole spirit of the Olympics is for amateur athletes to compete at the most prestigious event for their sport.”

    So what is track and field doing in there? And … all the other sports which are professional? I’m not sure how many that is, but I think it’s quite a lot of them these days.

    • Not every track and field athlete is a professional though are they? I think around 75% of all competitors at the games will be amateur.

      Sadly with TV and sponsors offering £££ which makes the IOC realise they can make a boat load of cash. there’s no getting away from the professional aspect. Which is why tennis is included – big viewers, recognisable stars. No other reason.

      I prefer the traditional aspect of the Olympics being all about amateur athletes competing for the love of competing and their sport in a competition that is the absolute pinnacle for them. Tennis doesn’t fit the criteria.

      “We can only rely on the support of those who believe in the principles of fair play and sportsmanship embodied in the amateur code in our efforts to prevent the Games from being used by individuals, organizations or nations for ulterior motives.”

  5. Tennis at the Olympics is fine. If players want to play then fine, but if they don’t play that’s fine too. The importance of tennis in the Olympics or should it be an event discussion is nothing more fanboy rhetoric. Federer has a gold in doubles and silver in singles, but in fanboy’s eyes that’s failure, so you get the “I hate tennis at Olympics” or “Tennis shouldn’t be an Olympic event.” Participation and importance is up to the individual player. The ATP didn’t award points because ITF didn’t want to compensate them.

    • Why do you have to make it about Federer? 😆

      It’s nothing to do with fanboy rhetoric. IMO tennis doesn’t sit in the Olympic programme at all. It feels like “just another tournament” and that is not the Olympics.

      It should be replaced with squash. Or if they must keep it – rejig the format to make it something unique.

      • Please Murray, Djoke, Nadal and Federer fanboys have the same clown discussion every day on forums. It involves who haves this and who doesn’t have that.

        The ITF did change the format. A TB in the final set. There you go. LOL.

  6. Djoke just lost then started crying and now his arrogant fanboys will make excuses. That’s for rejoicing because Federer couldn’t participate.

  7. Wow, Delpo, wasn’t expecting that. Both of them crying. Last chance for Djoker to win a medal?

  8. Go Del Potro!!

  9. How about the Davis Cup – didn’t some Swiss tennis players (you know whom) take part in DC just what they had to, necessary to be allowed to take part in OL? So OL then a bit important to them…- at a time. Now Rio has lost prestige because of…lots of things! – Well I don’t know of course how important OL is for prof. tennis players. But many say it was important to Roger. Well never mind. OL not so important to me! 🙂

    • Like I say, bait of natonal pride and home fans to statisfy is the big draw. Combined with sponsors wanting you there as you’re on every channel across the world. Hard to say no.

  10. I think you are correct. I live in the US (though a Brit) and the Olympics, in NBC’s prime time coverage, are all about Swimming, Diving, Gymnastics, and Track and Field. You only ever hear about the other sports in passing (if an American wins a shooting medal, or someone does something considered noble or tragic.)

    As for tennis, I’m sure it’s a great honor to carry the country’s flag etc., but I’m equally sure–as you say–that “no player would swap a Grand Slam for a Gold, and they wouldn’t relinquish a Masters 1000 for a medal.”

    • I lived in the US during 3 Olympics & was subjected to the same jingoistic, wildly skewed coverage. Watching the athletes’ profiles, one felt that each US athlete was a. from a broken home, b. underwent some life-threatening incident / disease or c. was abused as a child! The world champions were given short shrift in favour of US athletes and in general, only those sports where the Americans had a chance of getting a medal were shown. No fun at all!

  11. All sport is about doping now. Let the games begin!

  12. I think Tennis is almost an ‘exhibition sport’ at the Olympics & win-win-win for the organizers (thanks to the money it earns), the marquee players & the viewing public. The 750 ranking points the winner gets is just about right (between a Masters 500 & 1000) & reflects the size of the draw & the best-of-3 format.
    I watched tennis at the Sydney & London Olympics and loved the spectacle. Where else could I have watched a card that featured a. Azarenka v Kerber, b. Djoker v Tsonga, c. Fed v Isner & d. MaSha v Clijsters – on the center court at Wimbledon on the same day? Just watching Fed on Center Court at Wimbledon is Tennis Nirvana! And then we watched the Williams sisters play Errani-Vinci from the front rows on Court 2 for free!
    So it’s great for the viewers and it gives a feel of patriotism to the players themselves to carry the national flag, win a medal for the country etc. So it’s exactly right where it is.
    A pity Fed & Djoker will probably retire w/o having won an Olympic Singles Gold. But that IMHO lessens the prestige of the medal rather than of those who didn’t win it!

    • “Where else could I have watched a card that featured a. Azarenka v Kerber, b. Djoker v Tsonga, c. Fed v Isner & d. MaSha v Clijsters – on the center court at Wimbledon on the same day?”

      Probably at Wimbledon itself? 😆

      There are no ranking points given for Olympics though now. Zero ATP points from Rio.

      I agree, it is an exhibition sport, but that’s why it shouldn’t be there IMO. The Olympics is about the pinnacle of your sport. Not selling out to sponsors etc for cash. If you look it from the point of view of you like watching tennis, then yeah, you’re bound to be pro Olympic tennis. I try to look at the bigger picture.

      • Didn’t know the ATP is not giving any ranking points to Olympics this time. Thanks for correcting.
        Even basketball, once they allowed the US to field NBA players, turned into an exhibition sport with an even smaller probability of a non-US nation winning the Gold than Nadal defending a single title off-clay!
        As you said, it’s there because certain marquee players (starting with Agassi, Serena, Fed, Rafa, Djoker & Murray) did their part to play it up and make it bigger than it should be.
        Having said that, I think Fed & Djoker would gladly trade a Davis Cup or even a YEC title for an Olympic Singles Gold. Agree?

  13. I generally agree. I think the Olympics crowd the schedule. The tour is bigger then the Olympics. I think Serena would have been better off resting for the US Open. There is plenty of media hype and the sponsers want tennis in the Olympics. I think it should stay but it is not bigger then the Slams or Indian Wells and Miami. I am tired of Jon Wertheim making it sound bigger then it is though. If tennis wasn’t in the Olympics it wouldn’t bother me a bit though. The mixed doubles event is a joke.

  14. Ana Paula Simensato

    Ola, Jon!

    Man, I was in the audience from R1 till the finals and I can tell you the OG was really, really, really special for me, for other tennis fans and specially for the players.
    Just to sum up: Delpo left her soul there and history had been made by Murray and Puig.
    For the first time I disagree about you said.
    I’m still very excited about the OG that I cant watch Cincy with the same interest as usual.

    Abraços from Rio

    • Yeah. I think the players and their quality make it what it is for better or for worse. This year it was really compelling drama w a lot of high quality and great effort.

      That’s all you need for sports to be a success IMO and it was there for sure in tennis in Rio.

    • Ola, Ana. You must have seen some great matches. How about a fan report about your experience at the Olympics?

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