Wheelchair tennis players are now set to compete in this year’s US Open following uproar over the initial decision to cancel the disabled events.
Australian world number one Dylan Alcott, who was defeated by Britain’s Andy Lapthorne last year, called the initial scrapping “disgusting discrimination” after the news broke that the tournament would go ahead without wheelchair tennis.
Lapthorne himself said that the decision was a “kick in the teeth” but the backlash from players, as well as the president of the International Paralympic Committee, forced the US Open to reconsider and make a U-turn on their original decision.
The organisers offered to play the wheelchair tournament as usual but with 95% of the prize money, delay the event until October, or pay $150,000 in compensation which would be shared amongst participants.
The majority of players voted in favour of the first option.
I should be fairly safe in saying that disability sport doesn’t bring in the punters or TV money that able-bodied sport, especially men’s sport, does in comparison.
That, however, is not the point.
As Alcott said, it is, to me at least, discrimination against those who aren’t as well off or as privileged in society, and to not even contact the players is abysmal.
The initial cancellation of wheelchair tennis essentially said to the players that they aren’t as important as able-bodied athletes.
In my view, it was clear discrimination by the organisers of the US Open to try and save a few pennies.
Every sports person on the planet wants to play sports once it is safe to do so, and I think tennis is potentially one of the safer sports out there since players can have their own sets of balls to use so there’s no cross-contamination.
However, despite the sport itself being seemingly safe, the same cannot be said about the USA.
At time of writing, the States has just shy of 2.5 million cases in the country, with that number having increased over the last few days.
Nevertheless, the vote by the players to travel to New York and play the tournament tells me that they believe it is safe, or perhaps they just want to tell the organisers that they were plain wrong to cancel the event in the first place, let alone without telling them first.
With 95% of the prize money for athletes being retained, there isn’t much of a loss for participants which confuses me even more as to why the US Open opted to cancel the event in the first place.
Surely if they are cutting pennies off the prize money to save themselves a few bob, they wouldn’t need to scrap wheelchair tennis in the first place, especially when other events will be likely to also have their prize money cut?
I can certainly see the argument for scrapping wheelchair tennis at this year’s tournament, but I believe that if the able-bodied players are allowed to play, then the disabled athletes should too.
If anything, the disabled athletes need the money the most out of any sportspeople in the world.
In the 2019 US Open, there was a record $57 million total prize money, with the winners of both the men’s and women’s singles titles receiving $3.85 million. Each.
In comparison, this year’s wheelchair tennis players were offered to split $150,000 compensation for not playing the tournament.
Talk about kicking a man whilst he’s down.
It is in times like these (how many times have we heard that said over the last few months!) where we need to support those most in need, and surely it is the disabled athletes who need the most support.
By giving them their tournament, they are allowed to earn a living, or at least win some money towards supporting themselves, their families and money towards new equipment, whether that be new racquets or new wheels.
Sports all over the world must do what they can to support these athletes, mainly amateur but to some extent professionals because prize money – especially for disabled athletes – will be a huge source of income.
If the US Open didn’t double-back on their original decision, sadly I don’t think many people would have noticed.
Disabled sport isn’t as prominent as an able-bodied sport, and it only really gets shown off and receives the spectacle it deserves at the Paralympics.
However, again, that is beside the point.
These athletes are partly reliant on these tournaments for an income, and to take part of that away would hit them harder – relatively – than someone like Rafael Nadal who will have millions in the bank.
At the end of the day, these players want to play despite the known risks, and the US Open should’ve consulted them about their decision in the first place and gone from there.
It won’t be quite the same to watch as a fan, or for the players themselves with the event being behind closed doors, but what is important is that these disabled players get the recognition, and the income, that they deserve.
This article was written exclusively for golear.co.uk.