As the debate continues on whether donating to a player relief fund should be made mandatory for top-100 ATP professionals, India's retired tennis star Somdev Devvarman has come out in support of World No. 3 Dominic Thiem.
Thiem had stated last week that he would prefer to contribute to deserving causes instead of a player relief fund; the Austrian believes believes lower-ranked tennis pros aren't desperately in need of money. And now, in an interview with ESPN, Devvarman has said the 2020 Australian Open runner-up is totally justified in wanting to decide how he would like to spend his money.
Devvarman, a Padma Shri awardee, believes that Dominic Thiem shouldn't be forced to donate his money anywhere he doesn't want to. Thiem had, in his comments last week, openly refused to be a part of the fund proposed by Novak Djokovic to help the lower-rung professionals tide over the coronavirus crisis.
"It's more about being forced into a decision of how you want to spend your money. Thiem has been generous towards a bunch of charity drives and makes a valid argument when he says he wants to be able to choose the causes he wishes to support. It's unjust to criticize him," Devvarman said.
Reducing the pay gap should be on the agenda: Devvarman
There are quite a few experienced veterans outside the top 100 who have made more money than the promising youngsters who have just broken into the top 100. And Devvarman believes it would be unfair to pressurize the rising stars to donate their hard-earned money simply because of their presence in the elite bracket.
The 2010 Asian Games gold medalist, who made it to a career-high ranking of 62 back in 2011, has a more pragmatic solution in mind: minimizing the income disparity between the different echelons of the sport.
Devvarman suggested that a long-term plan needs to be put into place so that the prize money at the lower levels is increased. That in turn would help more players make a decent livelihood from the sport, rather than the mere 500-odd that are doing so right now.
"My idea is everybody who is getting this money may not really need it," Devvarman said. "The larger, more long-term question is of reducing the pay gap. Right now, the number of people worldwide who make money from playing tennis professionally would roughly be around 500 if you take the top 200 in the men's and women's singles and 50 players each from the doubles. The goal should be to raise that number to 2000 or 5000 and have more people from different countries make a living out of tennis."
The 35-year-old also hinted at the idea of reducing the prize money at the highest levels in order to ensure a more impartial distribution of funds.
"The top players may have to be paid less to make equitable distribution a possibility," Devvarman added.
Dominic Thiem also found support from Berrettini, Pella and Rodionova
While Dominic Thiem got a lot of flak for his supposedly insensitive comments about lower-ranked players, three of his peers echoed his thoughts. World No. 8 Matteo Berrettini has thrown his weight behind Thiem and has called for the donation to not be mandatory.
"I prefer to help more complex situations, such as hospitals, a family in need, rather than a tennis player. There are many players who need help and go red. The plan is very positive thing for tennis and shows that players also care about their colleagues from the rear," Berrettini told the Italian news agency ANSA.
World No. 35 Guido Pella also shared the same views as Thiem, and said that knowing the financial condition of the beneficiaries is important.
“I love that there is support for the players to maintain the level, but I do not agree with the obligation to have to contribute without knowing the reality of each player. I’m more on Thiem’s side. I think it’s okay for ATP to step in, to try to make it fairer for everyone. Much debate is required," Pella told Metro 95.1.
Arina Rodionova, ranked No. 69 in doubles, also came forward to say that it is ITF's responsibility to provide for the lower-ranked players - and that Dominic Thiem should not be vilified for his comments.Published 13 May 2020, 01:47 IST