The International Lawn Tennis Federation (ILTF) is making formal application to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for inclusion of tennis in the Olympic Games. ILTF officials are hopeful that in 1984 tennis will be an Olympic sport for the first time in 60 years.
"We have completed and are just checking over the rather lengthy documents that the IOC requires of any sport applying for admission," David Gray, general secretary of the London-based ILTF, said. "Members of our management committee will review them in the next few days, and they should be sent to IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, by the end of next week."
Tennis, one of the original sports in the modern Olympics, was included from 1896 through 1924. It was dropped thereafter for several reasons, including controversy about under-the-table payments to mominally amateur players. Such "shamateurism" dominated big-time tennis until 1968, when the ILTF approved "open competition" between amateurs and pros.
Tennis was a demonstration sport in the 1968 Olympics at Mexico City but its status was strictly unofficial. The 1924 singles gold medalists were Helen Wills and Vincent Richards.
Gray said the IOC application consisted of two questionnaires seeking detailed information on, among other things, "the adminstrative framework of tennis, how the amateur and professional sides are governed, how many people play, how expensive it is to play, and what equipment and facilities are required."
He said he had no idea how long it would take the IOC to process and act on the application, but that ILTF officials had received encouraging reports about the prospects for 1984.
"The Olympic program is crowded, and many sports would like to be a part of it," Gray noted. "But we feel we have a very good case because tennis is one of the most widely played international sports and was one of the original sports and was one of the original sports at Athens in 1896."
Tennis could not be included in the 1980 Games at Moscow because the program of events is already finalized, according to Gray. The site of the 1984 Summer Games has not been decided, but Los Angles and Tehran are thought to be the leading contenders.
"There are adequate tennis facilities in both those cities - nothing additional would have to be built," Gray said. "That is one plus in our favor, though there are many factors that are undoubtedly more important."
Gray does not think the fact that virtually all top-level competition in tennis professional will be a road-block to the sport's admission.
"The Olympic competition would be for the world's best amateur players," he said. "In the United States, the situation would be comparable to basketball. Presumably the best collegiate players would remain amateur until they competed in the Games, then turn professional."
The snag to such a concept could be the participation of Eastern European players, such as Alex Metreveli of the Soviet Union, who compete regularly on th pro circuit but technically maintain their amateur standings, the prize money they earn going to the national associations that subsidize them.
Tony Trabert, the U.S. Davis Cup captain, is one of the American voices in favor of Olympic tennis. "There's a void that wasn't there when Wimbledon, Forest Hills and other major championships were amateur," he says.
"The national intercollegiate championships are primarily American. If tennis were in the Olympics, the gold medalist would be recognized as the world amateur champion, and there would be great incentive for youngsters to go after that honor," Trabert said, adding that more than national pride and ego satisfaction would be at stake: "After all the exposure, the tennis champions, like other olympic winners, could probably command a lot of money for endorsements, appearances, and so forth when they turned pro."
"Let's face it, the status of the miner sports in the Olympics 50 years ago was not what it is today," said Cray. "Track and field events were glamorous and everything else was rather second class. The tennis entry never compared with that of Wimbledon or Forest Hills because it was more important for a player to win those championships. But now that the Olympics are televised and covered massively all over the world, participation is much more attractive for countries and for athletes."
Gray said there is "a good deal of enthusiasm around the world for getting tennis into the Olympics." There are several reasons:
National tennis associations in many countries believe they would be in line for a greater share of state-controlled funds for sport if tennis were in the Olympics. in countries such as Italy, where the tennis associations report to the national Olympic committee, officials believe they would have stronger voices if tennis were included in the Games.
ILTF officials believe Olympic participation would be "enormously good exposure for tennis," especially in countries where it remains a minor sport. "For example, who's ever heard of an East German tennis player?" said Gray. "If tennis were an Olympic sport. I think you'd suddenly see good athletes in East Germany competing in it."
The ILTF sees inclusion in the Olympics as a tool to "bring a good deal of unity to the game." Gray said nations that have disrupted international tennis competitions such as the Davis Cup and Federation Cup for political reasons might have second thoughts if they knew that doing so could jeopardize their participation in all Olympic sports.
As Gray put it succinctly. "Tennis players would like to represent their countries and win medals just like other sportsmen."
"In most countries where sport is government-controlled, the funds are allocated primarily to Olympic sports," Gray said. "That's the reason the national associations have pushed us on this. They see that if tennis were admitted to the Olympics, it would be easier for them to get money for courts, training programs, all kinds of developmental activities.
"Right now, many tennis associations feel as if they are outside the much sporting family in their countries. They feel like cousins left out in the cold."
Gray said the Olympic application also reflects an overall movement within the ILTF to make substantial improvements in amateur tennis.
"In 1968, a great deal of our attention was diverted toward getting the professional game right. It has been a great period of upheaval since then, but now it's possible for us to focus our attention on the great explosion in the amateur game.
"The tennis explosion is not just a U.S. phenomenon; it can be matched in Europe, Japan, many parts of the world." Gray added. "That is another reason for the Olympic application. We have one of the five most widely played sports in the world. It should be in the Olympics. It has a right to be."