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ABC Reveals Tennis Australia Divisions and Vote Threats

ABC Reveals Tennis Australia Divisions and Vote Threats
March 2, 2010

New evidence relating to the conduct of last year's election for the presidency of Tennis Australia has exposed deep fault lines within the tennis community.

On last night's ABC Four Corners program, a voting delegate in the election says he was warned a change at the top could endanger Tennis Australia's multimillion broadcast deal with Channel Seven.

Dean Williams from Tennis West, a potential supporter of challenger Paul McNamee, was approached by a Tennis Australia board member and told, "you realise you're putting the whole project in jeopardy with regards to Channel Seven's TV rights." 

Other delegates were also told a vote for former champion McNamee could also jeopardise the multi-million-dollar Victorian Government redevelopment of Melbourne Park and the tennis centre.

The allegations were contained in a Four Corners investigation, 'The State of Play', that looked at the administration of tennis in Australia and claimed the sport's governing body has attempted to control every aspect of the game.

Last October's election was Tennis Australia's first contested presidential election in 20 years.

It became a no-holds-barred contest between the sitting President Geoff Pollard and the former doubles champion, and one-time director of the Australian Open, Paul McNamee. 

Both men had key supporters. Pollard told Four Corners the board of Tennis Australia, containing heavyweights such as media buyer Harold Mitchell and Mirvac's Corporation's Chris Freeman, had given him its "unanimous" support.

But McNamee was not without some major backers including a roll call of tennis champions past and present.

Lleyton Hewitt, the former world number one, Wimbledon and US Open champion who, at 29 and ranked 24th, remains by some margin the nation's leading tennis player, was in the McNamee camp. Hewitt told Four Corners, "we've got to try and change things."

Hewitt says that after talking to McNamee last year during the US Open, he came to believe that McNamee would be "a lot more open to listening to a lot more different people".

The Four Corners program investigated a series of events that suggest the power to control every aspect of tennis is being centralised in the hands of just a few people.

The program was also critical of tennis-player development, Hewitt adding that there was little cause for optimism in this area, insisting that too much emphasis had been placed on largely irrelevant junior results and that not enough had been done to involve respected senior figures such as Tony Roche, Darren Cahill and Jason Stoltenberg in local coaching roles.

“In terms of players coming through, we don't have a lot right at the moment,” said Hewitt, "we're looking at guys ranked 250 to 400 in the world, possibly getting a gold jacket to play Davis Cup, and that's scraping the barrel. We've really got to try and make a change, and the best way comes back to the coaching.”

Confirming the deep divisions between Tennis Australia insiders and players and coaches, the program also looked at:

• The potential conflicts inherent in TA operating a player management business, with a stable that includes Sam Stosur, Casey Dellacqua and promising junior Jason Kubler;

• Head of men's tennis and Davis Cup coach Todd Woodbridge spending much of January in a paid commentary role for Channel Seven; 

• TA's establishment of a rival charity to the Kids Tennis Foundation run by vocal critic and failed presidential candidate Paul McNamee, which it had previously sponsored;

• The purchase last year of Australian Tennis magazine, which has also been critical of TA's operations;

• The Australian Open surface switch from green Rebound Ace to blue Plexicushion, as well as board member Ashley Cooper's ties to the winning bidder and the ramifications for clubs and tournaments;

• A senior Tennis Australia executive bragging of personal financial gain relating to Mirvac's lucrative residential development of the Queensland Tennis Centre site in Brisbane;

• Why revenue-driven ''global broadcast business'' dictated the decision to schedule national number one's Sam Stosur's 2010 Australian Open contest against top seed Serena Williams as the last match on Rod Laver Arena, with Channel Seven showing just the opening nine minutes of the Stosur-Williams match;

• TA's treatment, claimed to be a financially driven takeover, of the largest independent coaches' association.

The program also seems certain to intensify the rift between the governing body and Hewitt, whose manager, former Tennis Australia employee David Drysdale, has accused the national federation of chasing dollars at the sport's expense. 

Images: Paul McNamee (top) and Lleyton Hewitt (below).



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