7 February 2019

Kenya/Namibia: New Davis Cup Changes Hit Kenya, Namibia Hard

Kenya will after all not take part in Davis Cup Euro/Africa Group II Championship this year.

Kenya and Namibia, who earned promotion from the Africa Group III last year, found themselves locked out after the International Tennis Federation Annual General Meeting in Orlando, USA in August last year adopted sweeping changes in Davis Cup starting 2019.

Kenya won the Africa Group III Championship with Namibia finishing second in June last year as both sides got promoted to Euro/Africa Group II.

However, in sweeping changes to the 118-year Davis Cup adopted at the ITF AGM, a new ranking system came to effect after a new sponsor, Kosmo, a investment firm owned by FC Barcelona and Spain defender Gerard Pique, signed a deal worth $30 billion (Sh300 billion) covering 25 years.

Kosmo takes over from BNP Paribas, a French International banking company, who have been ITF partners for over 100 years.

Tennis Kenya chairman James Kenani disclosed that the new rules saw a ranking system backdated to four years being used and as a result Kenya dropped to 13 position in Euro/Africa Group II where 12 countries were picked.

Kenani noted that Kenya, that was ranked 76 in the world by the end of last year, were disadvantaged after failing to enter a team for the 2015 Davis Cup hence failing to get points.

Among countries affected were Namibia, Honduras and Poland, who had won Euro/Africa Group II beating Romania to qualify to Group I.

'DEMORALISING'

Kenani disclosed that Kenya and Poland are the only countries that appealed against the decision at the ITF Arbitration Committee in London but their case was dismissed.

"We are very disappointed since we didn't know the changes adopted at the AGM would affect the Davis Cup format in 2019," said Kenani. "It's demoralising to countries even if the prize money in Davis Cup has been increased."

Kenani said that sponsors really don't have to change or dictate the format of play when they come on board.

"Alternatively, the changes should have come into effect after 2019 since teams had already qualified in 2018. You can't punish countries who had invested their energies to qualify because a new sponsor has come on board," Kenani lamented. "They say countries are bound to benefit immensely but that is not how to manage events."

The Tennis Kenya boss added that they have already briefed Sports Principal Secretary Karimi Kaberia about the new development since they had already put in a budget of close to Sh8.7 million for Team Kenya preparations and participation in Euro/Africa Group II.

ITF affirmed that they are confident the new plans will deliver long-term benefits to players, nations and sponsors.

Among the bodies that sought to challenge the intended changes at the AGM saying they were "far from transparent" were Tennis Australia and Tennis Europe, a regional governing body representing 50 member nations.

The ITF said the Davis Cup's new status as the World Cup of Tennis will safeguard the future of the sport as it is being set up in a 25-year, $3 billion partnership with investment group Kosmos and also has the backing of Wimbledon, French and U.S. Open officials.

"The ITF has travelled extensively to consult with all stakeholders in tennis and incorporated their feedback to develop a reform package for the Davis Cup which delivers long-term benefits for players, nations, fans, sponsors and broadcasters," ITF said.

Tennis Europe said there was no clarity about how Kosmos planned to guarantee $120 million (Sh12 billion) per year which would be the $3 billion deal over 25 years".

The ITF's shake-up of the Davis Cup has been undermined after the men's governing body, the ATP, announced plans to introduce a rival 24-team World Team Cup, offering $15 million (Sh 1.5 billion) in prize money plus ranking points, into the calendar from early 2020 in Australia. The ATP's venture is endorsed by Tennis Australia.

Winners of Africa Group III will now pocket Sh2.5 million, up from Sh250,000.

"We are focused on more than protecting the interests of any one nation; we are focused on doing what is best for the whole of tennis," the ITF said.

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