By Ossian Shine
LONDON (Reuters) – The ATP is deep in talks with a host of experts from within and outside the sport as it seeks a new leadership team to help heal rifts in elite men’s tennis and lead it into a new era of growth and opportunity, a director of the sport’s governing body told Reuters at Wimbledon.
Walkouts and resignations in recent weeks have caused friction in the corridors of power and Briton Alex Inglot said the sport could be in line for a shake-up, including the creation of new leadership roles, and the introduction of external experts to help break deadlock in discussions.
Inglot would also like to see fixed-term limits for leaders; a clear split between the chairman and the presidential roles – currently performed as one; and the creation of an overriding, agreed philosophy or roadmap to help shape the future direction and growth of the sport.
“Let’s be frank here, the product is fantastic,” Inglot said while sitting in the sunshine on the players’ terrace at Wimbledon. “We’ve got incredible legends still on court, we’ve got a fantastic pipeline of tomorrow’s talent, and we’ve got incredible stages for them to perform on.
“We’ve got passionate fans, the hills here in Wimbledon are heaving, so we’re in no emergency scenario. But can we make a few tweaks to make sure that the structures and the governance and the processes are as efficient and as professional as possible to really squeeze the juice out of what we have?
“Yeah. I think we can. I think we can always improve. Whether it’s governance and processes, communication and transparency, whether it’s reviewing and addressing influences, those are things that I feel strongly about, that I told the (ATP) Council I would focus on and that we can improve on.”
Buffeted by a handful of resignations and internal disagreements in recent weeks, the ATP organises and runs men’s professional tennis as a de facto joint-venture between the players and the events. Both sets have representatives on the ATP board, with Inglot one of those representing the players’ interests.
“Generally, the reality is that there are only a few big issues that are pretty much zero-sum games,” Inglot said, highlighting some of the lightning-rods for conflict in the board room. “Whether it’s prize money, whether it’s changes to the calendar, whether it’s reviewing formats or things like that. So in those situations where interests are intrinsically differing, they cause frustration and friction almost by definition,” the Briton added.
The ATP earlier this year decided not to renew Chairman and President Chris Kermode’s three-year term when it ends this year, in a move which split players’ opinion. Some, including Rafa Nadal, spoke out, saying a change at the top would slow the process of improving the sport.
Inglot was one who voted to end his fellow Briton’s tenure, and wants the ATP to split Kermode’s role into two distinct parts – chairman on the one hand, and president or CEO on the other.
“I spoke to over 40 individuals, from within tennis, as well as experts from other sports to objectively assess where we were leadership wise. Should we be splitting the role of the chairman and the president/CEO? For me, even on a pure European corporate governance model, that seems to make sense,” said the lawyer.
“I believe that the organisation has now grown to such a size, the sport has grown to such a size and the entertainment environment we’re in is so evolved, that I think splitting the roles does make sense, where you have the chairman who can focus on stakeholder management, is focused on running the board, managing the board, and they can focus on really driving a vision that can really bind everyone together. And then we can have a president/CEO who is definitely inputting into the vision, but who is also managing the team, operationally, and can focus on delivering the finalised vision.”
Inglot said the ATP was already in talks with a number of people. “We’ve already had a few interviews and we’ve come across some really great people. Some of them are tennis, I wouldn’t say insiders, but people who really understand tennis already because they have some relationships. But then we’ve also got people who are from outside sport and tennis and they are offering some really interesting perspectives.
“So I’m actually very optimistic that we’re going to find a really interesting combination for our leadership going forward. We’ve seen some really bright individuals. It makes me very hopeful. We’ve got a few more phases, a few more first rounds to go, but we’re already seeing some really creative, talented people who are setting out some really interesting propositions.
“This is why I remain hopeful… there’s no doubt that we’ve had some troubles. We’ve got a new board, or half a new board, we’ve pushed forward with a new leadership structure because there’s going to be a split role, and individuals coming in the next few months. It’s a growth phase and, as in other walks of life, there are growing pains.
“There’s a little bit of pain here and things are bubbling away a little bit perhaps more than they would normally. But we are in good shape. Speaking to these candidates, they are really trying to shift the paradigm, they are disruptive people and they’re like, ‘I see more opportunity… I think the ATP are not realising their full potential’.
“There are really exciting conversations going on. The ingredients are there, the goodwill seems to be growing. I’m encouraged. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be plain sailing, it doesn’t mean everything is going to be fine from today or tomorrow onwards. There will be growing pains, there will be hiccups but I’m positive.”
(Reporting by Ossian Shine: Editing by Ken Ferris)