“We must go to every corner of the globe, not only care about Grand Slams nations” – interview with Dietloff von Arnim
Forget about putting the focus on Australia, France, Great Britain or the United States if the goal is to improve tennis, says in this interview Dietloff von Arnim.
“We shouldn’t just worry about the Grand Slams nations. Much more important is to go to Africa, Asia, Central America, South America… where tennis can really develop and be much more successful,” assures to CLAY the current president of the German Tennis Federation (DTB) and candidate for the ITF presidency.
This Sunday the elections of the International Tennis Federation (ITF) will be held in Cancun and the German wants to win them with some promises as axes: more transparency and democracy; more concern for the nations with less tennis tradition, and a better management of the Davis Cup and the Billie Jean King Cup.
Von Arnim is looking to beat current president David Haggerty on the ballot. The North American has been in office since 2015 and is running to govern the ITF for a third consecutive period. The German promises that if he wins, he will try to change the rules so that a second re-election is not allowed. “What you didn’t achieve in the second period, you won’t get in a third one,” he comments during the conversation that took place at the Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York while the US Open was underway.
Interview with Dietloff von Arnim
– You are the underdog. How do you think you are going to win this election?
– Ok, the underdog… that’s ok considering I’m going against the president that has already governed for eight years. We spoke to many federations and what we heard is that there’s a need for change. A change of leadership. When I started my campaign, I said that the ITF can do better. Now I say, “ITF must to better”. That’s the wish of many leaders from different federations around the world. So I’m quite optimistic going to Cancun. The nations don’t want to wait another four years for a change.
– Now you sound like you are feeling like the favorite.
– That’s difficult to say. But is going to be very close. I have the support from many presidents that think that we need to change, that ITF has lost ground. We will be more transparent, more democratic. We will support more the countries and regional federations.
– Is it really healthy for any kind of institution to have someone leading it for 12 years, as your rival pretends?
– People during my campaign have asked me directly “Dietloff, when you do it for one period maybe it’s not enough to make the ideas happen. Would you run for a second one?” Well, if I’m elected, I’d try to do so. Make my ideas realistic and make them work. Two periods would be enough. What you haven’t achieved by then, you won’t achieve in a third period. We should ask to the federations in a very democratic way if we can change the constitution to limit a maximum of one reelection.
– What’s the best thing David Haggerty has done for the sport?
– I think the tournament situation with the ITF is good. Is stable with the seniors and the upcoming players, so that’s one good thing, but we can do it better. For example, some of the Challengers are no longer part of the ATP, so as ITF are gaining them, we have to work with the national and regional federations to make the most of this opportunity.
– And what’s the worst thing Haggerty has done to tennis?
– We have to look at the team events, Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup… everybody will say that we made a mistake making the deal with Kosmos under these circumstances. At the end, there was a ballot to accept that partnership and the board and the CEO decided to go with them. Experienced people said it was not going to work, that was going to explode. So, we don’t know exactly where the money went. We don’t get that information, which is not a good sign. We know there’s a lawsuit from Kosmos and there’s a lawsuit from ITF against them. What the exact situation is? Do we have a guaranty? I hope we all have that information soon. ITF lost control of both Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup.
– ITF sold a big portion of the female competition.
– Yes. We sold 49% of the BJK Cup. For the cash flow point, from the liquidity it will help the ITF, but at the end is like a loan and it has to be paid back. This will be quite difficult. For Davis Cup we have to carefully rethink what we are going to do. ITF promised the Finals were going to be only two years in Málaga and in 2023 it’s going to be the third. There are things that we must accept has to be done better.
– You are promising more transparency… Can you mention specific situations when ITF hasn’t been transparent over the last years?
– With the Davis Cup situation, for example. And when the new deal came up with BJK Cup we asked questions that they refused to answer. It’s important to give and explain all the information to our members. When you play that game, you hear their pros and cons, and that constant communication makes things only better. You get to feed the institution with the expertise that comes from the national federations.
– Finances are not so stable at the ITF. Is it something that specially worries you?
– Davis Cup and BKJ Cup are the prestigious events that brings the headlines, but at the end everything pays in to the development of tennis. We are responsible for grassroots tennis, the juniors, supporting the federations to be successful on that, yes. If ITF doesn’t have stabled finances we cannot do so. At the end, we are losing money, due to Coronavirus or whatever explanation… we saw that with other sports entities, like ATP and WTA, but now they are up by 15% yearly. ITF is having negative results. For how long can we do it? We have to make the turnaround.
– Would you bring Davis Cup back to the countries?
– Davis Cup still have their home ties. For the last 16 it changes. Let’s don’t forget: there are a lot countries that doesn’t have ATP nor WTA event. Czech Republic doesn’t have an ATP event, for example. The only time people watch their players at home is at the Davis Cup. And that’s changed. Argentina has two ATP, Chile one. At the end, success for a federation is not having a player winning a Grand Slam. Is having more players, more kids at the court. In Germany is the same. Don’t judge me if Sacha Zverev wins a Grand Slam, or an Olympic gold medal. What we really have to focus on, is to have more kids in the court, more members in the associations. The broader tennis gets, the most successful we are worldwide.
– Tell me which way you would reach that goal.
-We have to support the federations with advice, with expertise. We must go to each corner of the globe. Is not that we only have to care about the Grand Slams nations. Much more important is going to Africa, Asia, Central América, South America… where tennis really can develop itself and be much more successful.
– Tennis is super anglocentric. North America and Europe get all the attention. Are you interested in changing this a little bit?
– Yes. And Federations are looking forward about that. I said it in my manifesto. We have to visit them and listen to what they need. For example, Pakistan have a population of 230 million people, but doesn’t have a single covered court. And a rainy season! No one have visited Pakistan so far to have a look and talk to them, discuss what we can do. We have to see that with our own eyes, gain that experience. Then we can apply work models there. Sometimes money, sometimes expertise. Because not all the time you have to bring people fish. You can be more successful if you teach them fishing.
– Are you in favor or against accepting investment in tennis from Saudi Arabia?
– We are talking about just the professional tennis now. At the moment there is not really big influence on the ITF with that topic. We know WTA is not going to Saudi Arabia. Do you know how many years is gonna be in Cancun?
– They have only announced for 2023 yet. And it was done less than two months before the event…
-Sometimes planning is too short for them. Now they have an offer on the table from the Saudis. To make tennis bigger? To change tennis a little bit? They wanna be in the calendar. I think we have to speak to them, we have to listen. And then make a decision based on what is best for tennis.
– The lack of women rights and human rights in the country… is it something that matters to you?
– I think all these arguments are very important, and we really have them to balance it up, to influence the discussion. Can we change Saudis with these arguments? I don’t know, but we have to speak to them. At the end, having more money on the table is not a bad sign, it must be attractive. We have to make it clear: we want the best for tennis.
– Would you push for having an anti-violence program as leagues like NBA or NFL do? After the Zverev case and some other cases in the ATP, the discussion opened up.
– Each federation should have it, and should work their best to have it. It’s a long process over the years where education is key. We have to educate the kids, coaches, parents, clubs. You have to do it and make it aware. A coach, for example, is not a driver. Coach is a coach. He has nothing to do at home, he doesn’t have to invite kids to sleep over, he doesn’t have to drive kids home, doesn’t have to speak with kids behind closed doors. You can make it clear to everyone in than process. There have been horrible cases. Each single case it is too much.
– Do you like the idea of having the tour gender-combined?
– Yeah. You always have to look at the combined events, specially from the economical side. If they work, that’s the starting point. I think it is good idea.
cover photo: SEBASTIÁN VARELA
If you enjoyed this interview with Dietloff von Arnim, don’t miss this link to many other interviews with the great tennis stars.