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.