The calls for ballkids to be paid at the Australian Open are only getting louder and will be almost be impossible to ignore for Craig Tiley and Tennis Australia.
After fans on social media discovered that ballkids Down Under aren’t paid, the controversial subject was thrust into the spotlight.
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Over the opening four days of the 2023 Australian Open the outrage only grew as more and more people called for Tennis Australia to open its wallet to the youngsters.
On Thursday night more weight was thrown to the conversation to pay the youngsters, who were previously paid until they were reclassified as volunteers in 2008.
Andy Murray pulled off one of the wins of his career as he knocked out Thanasi Kokkinakis with their five-set, second round encounter coming to an end at 4.05am (AEDT) on Friday morning.
The British star didn’t bite his tongue after the match as he fumed over the scheduling which saw the two men walk out onto Margaret Court Arena a little after 10pm Thursday night.
“I don’t know who it’s beneficial for. We come here (to a press conference) after the match, and that’s what discussion is. Rather than it being like epic Murray-Kokkinakis match, it ends in a bit of a farce,” Murray said.
“Amazingly people stayed until the end. I really appreciate people doing that, creating an atmosphere for us at the end. I really appreciate that. Some people need to work the following day and everything.”
As exhausted officials and delirious fans headed for the exits, Murray left his most stinging remarks for what the ballkids had to endure.
“If my child was a ball kid for a tournament, they’re coming home at 5am in the morning, as a parent, I’m snapping at that,” Murray said.
“It’s not beneficial for them. It’s not beneficial for the umpires, the officials. I don’t think it’s amazing for the fans. It’s not good for the players.
“We talk about it all the time. It’s been spoken about for years. When you start the night matches late and have conditions like that, these things are going to happen.”
Calls have long been made for changes to the scheduling of matches and after the second-latest finish in Australian Open history. But Tiley has said no changes will be coming.
“At this point, there’s no need to alter the schedule,” he said on The Today Show.
“We will always look at it, when we do the (tournament) debrief – like we do every year.
“But at this point, at what it is, we’ve got to fit those matches in the 14 days, so you don’t have many options.”
But it’s the topic of ballkids not being paid that needs to be seriously reconsidered.
Around 2500 kids apply to be ballkids every year, with less than one in five of them actually successful.
Unlike other Grand Slam events, the kids in Melbourne are given freebies and effectively work for the love of the game and the experience that comes with it.
It’s not as if the Australian Open is strapped for cash either. Prior to this year’s event Tennis Australia announced the largest prize pool in the history of the tournament was on offer.
A whopping $AUD76.5 million was on the table for those participating, up 3.4 per cent on 2022.
In the wee hours of Friday morning, a GoFundMe page was set up with the aim of raising $25,000 to be sent directly to Tennis Australia to distribute to the ballkids at the Australian Open.
Social media users added to the backlash as the five hour, 45 minute contest dragged on.
Murrary’s remarks come a day after journalist Justin Smith threw his weight behind the change, calling for the Australian Open to revert back to old times and pay the youngsters who work under strict conditions and often cop the wrath of frustrated stars.
“Are we in a Dickens novel or something? Come on. Pay the kids,” Smith said on Channel 7.
“I’m shocked that they didn’t pay them. I think it devalues them appallingly. They should start forking out as soon as possible … I really do, it’s devaluing them.”
Broadcaster Amanda Rose added: “Essentially, I think it conditions children at a young age that the experience is worth more than being paid. For girls in particular, I think it’s really important to actually say, ‘no, (we’re) worth this money … It’s not a charity event.
“You don’t want them going for a job in their 20s and being told that it is for the experience, and they are not getting paid. So they should get paid.”
The controversial issue was brought to light on Reddit with users split over the topic with many believing it was nothing short of exploitation.
“How is this not child exploitation?” one user asked.
“It isn’t unreasonable to suggest the ballkids get paid for their time,” said another.
“It’s the sports version of artists getting paid in exposure.”
Not everyone thinks that it’s such a big deal, however.
One Reddit user in response to the thread said: “Volunteering can be problematic when there’s implicit pressure or coercion to perform labour voluntarily, producing profit for an organisation that the individual doesn’t get to share in.
“There is no implicit pressure on ballkids to work for free.
“No one needs to be a ballkid at the Australian Open for exposure or career purposes.
“Kids jump at the chance because it’s an awesome opportunity – there’s no exploitation here, move along.”
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