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Ranking has no place in Olympic tennis

The allocation of ranking points to tennis players based on their performance in the Olympic Games can almost be perceived as a betrayal to the Olympic spirit.

International Olympic Committee founder Baron Pierre de Coubertin envisioned the Olympics to be an event free of prejudice; be it on the basis of status, religion, politics or race.

Qualified participants should relate to the games with a sense of honour in being presented with the privileged opportunity to represent one’s country to the best of their ability. The Olympics embodies a means by which sportsmen and women can inspire others to achieve their goals and dreams, and serves as a reminder that when the people of this world place their differences aside, they may unite to celebrate a shared humanity.

It has had me puzzled as to why then have tennis players been awarded ATP ranking points towards their world status in relation to their olympic victories since Athens in 2004?

In light of the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) agreement as of June 1 last year, ITF president Francesco Ricci Bitti said, “The support of the ATP in finalising the agreement has ensured that as many of the top male players as possible are able to compete at the Olympic Tennis Event.

“This important agreement ensures that more of the top women players will be eligible to compete in London.”

This statement possibly suggests that the implementation of the ranking points in conjunction with the games offers a motive for players to participate and that some countries would otherwise not have their best players representing their nation in the Olympic Games. This holds especially true to some of the more ambitious tennis players who may contemplate sacrificing the Olympics in order to save their strength for those tournaments that involve the personal benefit of monetary gain.

What happened to participating in the Olympics out of sheer respect for the sport and pride in one’s country?

Prior to the ATP/ITF agreement, players who were not as much of a presence in Grand Slam tournaments such as Russia’s Andrei Cherkasov and India’s Leander Paes were able to attain bronze medals in the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games respectively. I view this as an indication that the distribution of ranking points for Olympic performance has influenced some of the world’s top tennis players to enter the games with their status primarily in mind.

While other tennis events throughout the year are open to a wide range of players of various abilities and experience, the Olympics limits each country to a maximum of four players for each of the men’s and women’s singles tournaments. This raises the issue of inconsistencies in the ranking system as points are given to players for successfully passing through to a certain round in the games.

From success in the first round through to the achievement of receiving the gold medal, ranking points are allocated to individual players. This includes 750 points being given to the men’s singles gold recipient and 685 points being awarded to the women’s singles gold champion. Therefore a much smaller sphere, who are likely to be the more highly ranked players, are given the opportunity to improve their ranking further while those who may have only just missed the cut due to limited numbers are to go without the opportunity to earn any ranking points whatsoever.

It would be an interesting exercise to separate the ranking system from the Olympic Games so as to expose the tennis players who take pride in participating in the games in the true Olympic way and are not merely using it as a platform by which to enhance their standing on the ATP or WTA ranking ladder. it is important in this day and age to not allow the inherent meaning of a worldly event such as the Olympics to fade and be forgotten with time, but rather help preserve the purity of this special event that unites our nations in the name of sport.

The Olympic Games should play no part in determining the professional ranking of tennis players. We should be honouring players such as Cherkasov and Paes who earned Olympic medals without the underlying intention of self-gain.

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