I wrote a post recently about the Serbia Open, which is partially owned by the Djokovic clan, and wondered aloud what, if any, conflicts of interest may be involved.
Well, my thoughts were heard and answered! Actually, I sent in the question to Jon Wertheim's mailbag over at Sports Illustrated since I figured he (and possibly their crack research team) could shed some light on the situation and it's featured in this week's edition. Check it out:
The Djokovic clan and some private investors recently bought the Amersfoort tourney and are transforming it into the newly-named Serbia Open, which debuts as an ATP 250 event this May. It's mentioned on his website he will be taking part in the tourney. A few readers (and me) were wondering if there's any precedent for this situation, e.g. an active baller buys into a tourney and then enters the draw? And wouldn't this setup be a conflict of interest for the tourney officials?
-- Rich, Brooklyn, N.Y.
• It's a huge conflict of interest, of course. (How would you like to be working as a line judge when Djokovic plays!) While I can't recall anything quite as flagrant as an active player's family owning a sanctioned tournament, conflict of interest is the coin of the realm in tennis. How different is this from a management group owning a tournament and also having players in the field under contact? (Gee, think IMG clients might get preferable treatment and first dibs at wild cards at IMG-owned events?) How different is this from broadcasters commentating on matches on which they have a financial stake in the outcome? How different is this from handing out appearance fees -- an inherent acknowledgment that some players are worth more to the tournament than others?
Taking a more charitable view here: tennis is obviously hot in Serbia right now and it only makes sense to penetrate that market. In addition to seizing the initiative and ponying up the cash, the Djokovic family can deliver the top draw but put him through his promotional paces. ("But I already went to a sponsor party yesterday!" "Shut up and press the flesh, son.") It's not an ideal situation, but you could argue the greater good is being served here.
True indeed Jon - tons of different hands diving into all kinds of cookie jars in this sport and probably many others too. And, yes, those Djokos will no doubt be put through the horse + pony PR show.
Smile for your cash boys!
(image via serbiaopen.com)