time for change
This is an article that I originally wrote for Elite Tennis. Founding publisher Marcin Matysik was able to set up an interview with Dave Miley, who is currently running for ITF President. Elite Tennis has way more articles written by Dave Miley himself about tennis, as well as super informative posts regarding just about anything someone would want to know in the tennis world! Subscribe to them here! (It's worth it)
“There is a better way.”
This is a sentence that has been uttered constantly among players, coaches, parents, federations, and more since the International Tennis Federation (ITF) came out with their new format for the professional circuit in 2019.
Chief among these voices is Dave Miley, who has been nominated by Tennis Ireland to run for ITF President. He’s been outspoken and openly disappointed about the changes that the ITF has made even before they were officially implemented, stating time and time again that they would not work and would be detrimental to the game. As voices like Miley’s continue to be ignored, it’s clear that change is necessary at the very top portions of the ITF ladder.
Miley can make a difference, and here’s why.
First and foremost, here’s a little background on Miley. Coming from a tennis family (his grandfather competed at Wimbledon, among other things) Miley has spent his entire life in the tennis business. After playing tennis at University in the United States and on the professional satellite tour, Miley spent 25 years working for the ITF as an executive, including a 17-year stint running the biggest department in the ITF (which included junior, senior, wheelchair, technical, anti-doping, developmental programs, and player training). He’s worked closely with players, the WTA, and the ATP, and after resigning from his position at the ITF, he began to work with Asian Tennis.
This matters because those running tennis should be involved in tennis. Currently, five of the twelve (previously thirteen) ITF Board Member’s have no history of tennis, with two others being mentioned only as having coached in the past (with no explanation towards what level of coaching or for how long.)
How could non-tennis players have come up with the restructuring of the ITF?
The new rules were implemented largely based on statistics. The problem with this, noted Miley, is that there aren’t enough tennis expertise voices around current ITF President David Haggerty, so most of the decisions were based on these statistics. As tennis players know, you can’t possibly see what works and what doesn’t work without being heavily involved in the game. The ITF team is made up of a fair amount of people that have no direct knowledge of tennis, and that’s a problem.
“The two rankings don’t work.” Miley agreed. “Statisticians thought it work, but it didn’t. You can’t have people driving the thing that haven’t played tennis.”
Statistics only tell a very limited and sheltered view of tennis as a whole. Sometimes, of course, statistics are great. However, it’s clear that there isn’t enough tennis knowledge at the top of the ITF.
David Haggerty does have tennis expertise (he played college tennis in the United States and was on the satellite tour, among other things.) However, perhaps he hasn’t been on the ground enough at tennis events – or maybe his ideas simply don’t work for something like the ITF Tour. Either way, it’s clear that Haggerty and the board’s ideas are failing, and they haven’t been willing to simply admit that they messed up and work to make major improvements. Whatever the case, it seems obvious that the time for a new leader is now.
So, what is Dave Miley’s platform all about? It’s pretty simple, and revolves around two things:
First, tennis. Miley wants what is good for tennis – not just what’s good for the ITF. The second focus is ITF nations/shareholders. He also wants what is good for these groups. Miley noted that although the ITF owns properties such as Davis Cup, Fed Cup, and Olympic Tennis Events, they are, in the end, “custodians of the sport.”
“The ITF should be able to lead but respect the ATP, WTA, Grand Slams and all of the different constituents including the players, because the players deserve to be listened to and respected.” Miley noted. “They can’t run the show, but they need to be listened to and respected.”
Dave Miley’s vision is simple. He wants the ITF to be leading tennis, and to be promoting and doing things that are good for tennis, good for the shareholders, and good for the member nations.
He’s always had this vision – ever since 2012, when the ITF coaches commission first raised the issue that the breakeven for players was only around 130 in the world, and that players 200-300 were losing money on tour. The idea of this new tour began because of these issues raised back in 2012, and was meant to have four objectives:
In Miley’s eyes, this new tour has failed in all four objectives. The pathway, he stated, certainly hasn’t been improved, as there are reduced qualifying draws. As a result, players who are ranked 300 are struggling to get into tournaments – clearly, the pathway is not better.
In terms of players making more money, the tour has failed as well. Prize money is the same (with an added entry fee for men) and draw sizes haven’t increased, so there’s no way that this pathway would result in more players breaking even.
Because of the shortened tournament week, it appears at first that organizers would save about $500 a week, Miley stated. However, they lose income from qualifying, so they end up costing organizers about the same as in previous years.
And, of course, the huge issue of integrity – one of the main reasons that the ITF stated they wanted to reduce the numbers of professionals. However, there are still the same number of matches being sold and bet on in 2019 as in 2018. Perhaps, Miley said, if more players were breaking even, it would create less temptation for those competing to break integrity rules. This is a really important section that must be figured out, and Miley has precise suggestions on how to improve these issues.
“None of the objectives are being achieved,” stated Miley. (A fact which seems clear to players and coaches, but has escaped the ITF thus far.)
Miley has a lot of plans to improve the pathway if he is to be elected President. He’d like to potentially implement regional tours to reduce costs and find more ways for players ranked 300-700 to make more money. All of these concerns are addressed in his platform, which includes a complete restructure of the ITF to finally achieve the original four objectives.
Specifically, there are seven pillars to Miley’s manifesto, and start with what he plans to do with professional tennis - including Davis Cup, of which Miley stated that the changes were “too far and too fast.” For him, Davis Cup is not a seven-day event, and believes that finding a format that respects the traditions while generating the same or more income is essential. The manifesto will also discuss what his plans are for generating income, developing the game, and more.
A big part of Miley’s plans are to make things more user-friendly at the junior and professional level. He’d like to find ways to help players so that it doesn’t cost them $50k a year to play as a professional as well as reducing the time it takes to break top 100. These all sounds like ideas that the ITF should have been concerning themselves with years ago.
He would also like to include the players more in decision making. Earlier, I mentioned his comment about players’ needing to be listened to and respected. Miley truly believes in this, and thinks that the ITF board may be out of touch with the realities of the tour because they haven’t been on the ground talking to players and seeing what is really going on.
One way to ensure that players are having a say in what’s going on is to form a player union – something that Miley has been openly for in past articles that he has written. He feels that it’s probably a positive thing, and would allow players to have a say and ensure that they are being treated properly. Along with this, Miley has ideas on having more of a player council for the ITF in order to have better direct interactions with players at the different levels.
I know that perhaps these topics are a bit vague, and we are all wondering specifics about Miley’s campaign (I probably asked him 20 times during the interview.) Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to discuss anything in detail due to the new Code of Conduct by the ITF, which has handcuffed Miley until the ITF officially announces his candidacy (he can begin campaigning in June.)
The Code of Conduct was released by the ITF on Marth 4th, and wasn’t actually seen by Miley until the 8thbecause the ITF didn’t send it to him (and didn’t show him the code when he first asked for it back when he decided that he was going to run.) This code states that once you even mention that you’re going to be a candidate, you are deemed as such, and cannot give out any information relating to the campaign until the ITF officially releases the names of those running for President (in late March.) This has made things tough for Miley because he can’t travel to any regional meetings and can’t give out any specific information about his campaign – meanwhile, current President Haggerty can do all of this because he’s presenting everything under normal business.
Once he can go to regional meetings and present his ideas, most of them are over. Miley stated that he doesn’t want to be a victim, though, and said that “It’s fine. I’m going to keep campaigning positively. I don’t think it’s very fair, but everyone can see that, so I don’t have to do much.”
Another thing to note about this Code of Conduct is that the ITF has tried to put the blame on the Ethics Commission, which polices the code. They say it has nothing to do with them, and it’s this independent commission that is in charge. However, the Code of Conduct was put together and approved by the executives and the board. They then elected an ethics committee to policy the policies. So, this committee is just implementing a code that they did not put together – the ITF did.
This pointing-fingers seems to be commonplace for the ITF, as players have seen the ITF and ATP blame each other back and forth regarding the implementation of ATP points at the lower level. This, Miley said, is a huge red-herring.
“They should stop this right now.” He explained. “It doesn’t matter who did it. The point is that there was a chance to put something together that was good for tennis. They’re distracting people. You had years to put something together that was better and you didn’t do it. That’s it.”
Instead of pointing fingers, the ITF could easily be putting a band-aid on the wreck that is this 2019 tour while figuring ways to fix the issues long-term. Miley mentioned how easy it would be to temporarily improve the pathway for the rest of 2019; start with increasing qualifying draws to 64 in the $15k and $25k events, as well as have the challenger qualifying draw size be 16. This would allow far more people to compete, and would give the ITF a chance to really re-think the pathway that they have created (or not created) for players.
Unfortunately, this isn’t happening, as the ITF seems reluctant to admit that they’ve made a mistake – even with people like Miley writing letters and articles about all of the current issues on the tour. The ITF is standing by the majority of their changes, and trying to cover it up with the very few “success” stories about the new pathway – while ignoring all of the stories that are not good.
“There is no issue in saying sorry when you mess up,” Miley stated emphatically. “but it seems to be a very hard word.”
Perhaps instead of focusing on playing the blame game the ITF should be more focused on what their players are saying and the facts of the sport. For example, participation is a huge issue in tennis today.
Miley talked about how in the 80’s, the United States had participation with tennis at 30 million; today, it is at 16.7 million. Everything is decreasing – participation, sales, etc. The ITF, he pleaded, should be focusing more of its reserves and more thought on programs to increase participation. There has to be seven or eight things that are good for the game that everyone can agree on. This is another concern that Miley would be addressing in his presidency – and an important one, as it ties into the fact that the ITF seems to want less professionals playing (I don’t know any other sport that is actively trying to decrease participation.)
While on the topic of participation, we discussed the new doubles rules, which have been yet another controversial change to the ITF tour. Here, Miley conceded that he sees what the ITF was trying to do, which is increase participation in doubles. He thinks that getting more top singles players interested in doubles would be good for the sport, and agreed that younger players shouldn’t necessarily be focusing on only playing doubles. He did also state that perhaps there is an in-between that can be found to allow for doubles-specific players to get into events a little more easily, even though the spirit of this change is positive.
In the end, Miley had opinions on pretty much every aspect of the new ITF tour, the current state of tennis, and how to do things differently. He feels that the ITF should be growing the sport and supporting the players while improving tennis for member nations. Tennis is a global sport that should be all-inclusive, and the fact that the new rules have limited it so much is big red warning sign for anyone involved in the sport. A tennis player is a tennis player, no matter what the level.
“You have to respect the player who is 1000 or 2000 because they’ve give up something in their life to be that good.” Stated Miley. “There’s a tendency for people to say they shouldn’t be there, that they’re rubbish. But they’re not. They’re playing the sport they love, and why can’t they? If they want to spend their money traveling around playing the sport they love…why not?”
That’s the big question to the ITF – if someone wants to play, then why not? Hopefully, future president Dave Miley will be able to not only answer these questions, but bring back the game that we all love. Because, as we know…there is a better way.
Former Hawkeye now playing tennis professionally; Journalism major.