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New shirts, please

Chris Bowers
Sunday February 2, 2003
The Observer

Many of the world's leading tennis players could soon be asked to choose between loyalty to their country and loyalty to their clothing sponsor in a dispute that threatens to overshadow this year's Davis Cup. On Friday, the eight world-group first-round ties get under way, but this should be more than just a set of tennis matches.

It should be the weekend when the game's most prestigious team competition finally emulates virtually every other sport - by having the players turn out in team kit. It seems a logical development. Yet thanks to a stand-off between officials and clothing companies it probably won't happen this week, and only in a restricted form in April's quarter-finals. It seems less a power struggle than a playground squabble, which has left many tennis watchers wondering who controls the sport.

The Davis Cup is run by the International Tennis Federation, who are responsible for the rules and global development of tennis. In November 2000, they held a seminar on how to make tennis more attractive. One of the recommendations was to have uniforms for team competitions.

A month later at the 2000 Davis Cup final, the ITF's executive vice-president, Juan Margets, told the media this was to become a priority project. His announcement was well timed - that same day the Davis Cup was decided in a match between Lleyton Hewitt and Juan Carlos Ferrero that had both players wearing identical kit.

Both are under contract to sport's biggest clothing company, Nike, and they wore matching red and grey. In September 2001, the ITF confirmed team uniforms as optional for 2002 and mandatory from 2003. In June 2002, they softened the word 'uniform' to 'identification', but still made some form of team kit mandatory for 2003, starting this week. According to their rule, any team not wearing 'acceptable attire' can be fined up to $10,000.

Although the players will incur the fines, their national associations will be docked the money. With a week to go, the ITF look set to cash in if they enforce their rule. Margets says he has tried to be flexible but has had little response from the clothing companies until the eleventh hour. The companies say they weren't consulted and it is now too late to do anything for the first round. Margets rolls his eyes in frustration.

The manufacturers base their opposition on different reasons. Nike say they pay extra money to their athletes to forego all other logos on their clothing. In a statement, they say: 'Nike consider any ITF effort to force tennis players in this direction a disturbing interference of the individual agreement we have with the Nike athletes.' Reebok and Lotto were reported to be others who said wearing team uniforms would be a breach of contract.

The ITF went to their lawyers, who said more or less that the clothing companies hadn't a leg to stand on. After all, the companies already allow exceptions to their players' contracts at the Olympics, because athletes have to wear the officially approved kit of their Olympic association. That created a storm two years ago when Gustavo Kuerten was told by Diadora that if he wore Brazil's official Olympic strip he would be in breach of contract. So Kuerten pulled out of the Brazil team and let the world know why.

This caused such a rumpus back home that Diadora backed down, no doubt fearing they might never sell another replica shirt in Brazil. It is the issue of replica shirts that makes it so hard to understand why there is a dispute. Parents moan that they have to buy the latest replica football kit for their offspring. So why aren't the manufacturers jumping at the chance to make more money out of national replica kits?

Stuart Wilson, a commercial sports consultant who is acting as an informal spokesman for the clothing companies, says: 'The sums just don't add up. If, for example, Adidas had to make a Great Britain shirt for Tim Henman, the only place they would sell them would be at Davis Cup ties. They would make a profit of $10,000-15,000. Companies aren't in it for those sums.

'When Adidas endorse David Beckham, or Nike pay Manchester United, they know Beckham will be available for every match when he's fit, that's about 40 times a year. The maths are very different.'

The deal Wilson put to the ITF last week was that nothing would be compulsory this week, but country names on the back of the players' normal shirts would be obligatory by the quarter-finals.

That would mean that Australia - assuming they beat Britain - would have Lleyton Hewitt in Nike's white or black playing with Mark Philippoussis in Fila's striking red shirt, but both would have 'Australia' on the back. That would leave the ITF in a tough position. Should they go for that as a foot in the door, or should they enforce their rule, say the manufacturers were taking them for a ride and play brinkmanship? Brinkmanship would have some support.

The ITF's lawyers are believed to have said they would win if the case went to court as tennis is so out of step with other team sports. Wilson counters: 'The makers put half-a-billion dollars a year into tennis through grass-roots programmes and advertising, so, if our profits are affected, everyone in tennis suffers.'

How far will the ITF go? Margets says: 'We're willing if necessary to produce our own unbranded national shirts, and to fight up to the point where it affects player participation.' The first test of strength could come when a team wear national kit resulting from a deal signed by the national tennis association, but at least one of their players is under contract to rival manufacturers. India have nominated Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi to play against Japan in New Delhi this week. The Indian tennis association are unveiling a deal with Reebok, but Paes plays in Adidas kit and Bhupathi in Nike. If both players turn out in Reebok kit, it will be interesting to see if Adidas and/or Nike jump to their lawyers claiming breach of contract To many, it's a nonsense there is a dispute at all. Virtually everyone professes to support the idea of team identification.

At the 2001 Davis Cup final, Pat Rafter asked Reebok to give him a golden shirt and green shorts, and Lleyton Hewitt asked Nike the same. Both companies obliged. Last year Argentina's players wore the pale-blue-and-white striped shirt of the country's football team, the Dutch wore orange, and other players wore tennis shirts in national colours. Yet most of the 16 world-group nations will take to the court on Friday in danger of incurring $10,000 fines. It makes Wimbledon's 'predominantly white' rule look terribly progressive.
 

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I think its cool to play on your country´s colors once the competition is about paying for your country. It´s almost obvious, I guess. :p
 

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I think I remember this topic about 15 years ago and the players still continued to wear their endorsement patches on thei shirts. And wasn't Guga in some Davis Cup shirt controversy a couple of years ago?

I too would like to see the nations colors on the shirts and shorts during Davis Cup. But shouldn't the same be true of Fed Cup and other team competitions?
 

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I thought the ITF decision included Fed Cup too.

You can understand the sponsors considering Davis Cup is a big showcase, that's when not only tennis fans but other sport fans watch tennis because the interest is another scale than every week tournaments, the DC pictures make the news...

Yet it should be possible to find some kind of agreement. It makes tennis look ridiculous to be one of the few sports, if not the only one, where there is no national uniforms. It would add some character to the competition.

I was really looking forward to see all teams in their colors, as I really like the Argentinian team wearing their colors the past couple of years and last year you had El Aynaoui and Alami wearing Lacoste green shorts and red shirt, they looked really nice except that Arazi was left wearing stupid Tachini white or grey.

Also last year Lacoste had planned to implement a national outfit for the semi-final tie France/USA, that Grosjean, Santoro and Clément would have been able to wear. But then we have Llodra in Nike, Escudé in Tacchini and Mathieu in Adidas so finally it did not work out. I'm curious to see if they'll come with anything this year or have fully given up.

I don't understand the argument "it will only sell at Davis Cup ties". If you go to regular tournaments, you do see Dutch fans wearing orange tee-shirts, Swedish fans wearing blue and yellow caps, Aussie fans wearing national rugby jerseys, Spanish fans wrapped in Spanish flags, and so on.
No doubt that American tennis outfits wearing the names Roddick or Blake would sell well in all American tournaments for instance.
Probably, some fans would not even mind wearing national outfits of other nations providing it has the name of their favorite player on it. After all, you see European people wearing Brazilian soccer jerseys in the streets, just because it's cool. ;)
Just imagine for instance at Roland-Garros, a group of fans dressed in Spanish shirts wearing the name "Ferrero" meeting in the alleys a group of fans dressed in Spanish shirts wearing the name "Moya", and a couple of "Corretja" ones cheering for Alex at the practice courts... :D
 

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the cat said:
I think I remeber this topic about 15 years ago and the players still continued to wear their endorsement patches on thei shirts. And wasn't Guga in some Davis Cup shirt controversy a couple of years ago?

I too would like to see the nations colors on the shirts and shorts during Davis Cup. But shouldn't the same be true of Fed Cup and other team competitions?
I think Guga was saying Diadora was the first to have faith in him and he felt a duty to wear their stuff out of gratitude. Was he saying all that though because this shirt subject had come up? I don't remember that, I just remember Guga saying that stuff.

I think it would be cool if players wore their national colors though. I saw a picture of Canas wearing what looked like the Argentina national jersey while not playing (he was on the court though, I think this is someone's avatar), and I guess it's because Argentina has such beautiful colors that it made a good impression on me. I thought it would atleast look good with them. I think a national team outfit would be fitting for a team competition.

Tryphon, I like what you're saying in your last paragraph. What do you think people would think if I showed up in the "Roddick" shirt? Hehe
 

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Tryphon, I like what you're saying in your last paragraph. What do you think people would think if I showed up in the "Roddick" shirt? Hehe
They'd think that you were there to supervise your 14 year old sister and her friends, and leave you alone :angel:
 

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They would be thinking other things. lol It would be interesting. I can't imagine wearing a 'tennis replica shirt.' It's just not tennis, but ultimately, I am sure I would own the 'Hewitt' one
 

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Although I don't understand too much this stuff. I think it would be nice to have the team playing with the outfits of the colours of the country, just as Argentina did last year.
 

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As a couple of people were talking about Guga´s shirt controversy, I´m gonna explain what happened.

Guga was sponsored by Diadora since he was a junior. In 2000, for the olympics, the brazilian olympic comitee signed up a contract with Olympikus (which sponsors a huge deal of our minor teamsports and always sponsors Olympics and stuff like that) for ALL the members of the Brazilian Team.
Guga was in the team, but at the same time, Diadora wanted him to play on their shirt (mind you, that was the best year of his career, and he would even finish the world as the number one player. They wouldnt let it go so easily)
Guga said he couldnt play the Olympics then, if Diadora didnt let him go. After a big problem, they let him play on a white shirt, with the Olympic Brazilian logo, and no brands. Neither Diadora nor Olympikus.
THERE Guga started to think about changing his sponsor. One year later, he signed Olympikus and quit Diadora, but in peaceful terms. Not a single fight or problem went to the media.

I guess that covers the subject. ;)
 

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It's ridiculous to force them to wear a certain outfit. Wearing the national colours would be a better idea. The morrocans did look good in their outfits.
 
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