Tennis officials say they suspect some top players have been recieving "appearance fees," under-the-table guarantees, for their particiaption in tournaments, in violation of Grand Prix rules.
"It's my opinion that it's definitely happening," Bob Briner, executive director of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), told The Washington Post. "It is one of the most aggravating problems we have, from the standpoint of the ATP, the Grand Prix, and the pro council."
Briner is a member of the Men's International Professional Tennis Council, a tripartite board made up of three representatives each of players, tournaments and the International Lawn Tennis Federation. The council administers the Grand Prix, a year-long series of tournaments linked by a point system that leads to a year-end bonus pool of nearly $2 million.
Briner stressed that only a few players are suspected of taking appearance fees. "While it's a significant problem, I think it's relatively limited," he said. "But whose who do, do it often."
Grand Prix rules state: "No tournament shall give a guarantee or additional payment to anyone competing or make payments either directly or indirectly in respect of the participation of nay player."
One official said some top players and their agents have asked for appearance fees of up to $50,000, practice courts whenever they are needed and have been paid for off-the-court promotional activities when they are not playing.
The entry of Bjorg Borg and some other International management Group (IMG) clients in certain tournaments is contigent on the arrangement of additional income for them from promotional activities, some officials charge.
Borg flew to South Africa for a tournament in March the week before the Volvo Classic in Washington, D.C. While there her also made television commercial and participated in a clinic conducted by his coach, Swedish Cup captain Lennart Bergelin, also an IMG client, for which Bergelin was alledgedly paid $25,000.
Bud Stanner, a vice president of IMG who handles Borg's affairs, said, "To my knowledge, none of our clients have ever been paid a straight appearance fee by tournament. They have never recieved money for just showing money for just showing up, without having to perform for it. I think certain officials are having a private witch hunt."
Stanner acknowledges that fee have been paid to IMG clients, including Borg, for some appearances, clinics, photo sessions and other promotional activities during Grand Prix tournaments.
"There is lots of locker room talk, and some tournament sponsors have told me that agents for players have asked for appearance fees, but we have to have doucments," said Philippe Chatrier, president of the French tennis federation and a member of the pro council.
"We are very aware of this and we want to nail someone because we can't tolerate this sort of things if the tournament game is going to be clean, honest and above the table," said Chatrier.
"We have told tournaments, 'giving us proof and we will nail the offenders immediately, even if they are the rop players in the world. We'll throw them out of the Grand Prix in a minute. One day we will have proof and will clean up this disease."
Violation of the rules would disqualify players recieving a share of the Grand Prix bonus pool, that this year carries a $300,000 first prize.
Organizers of the Pepsi Grand Slam, a four-man tournament with $200,000 prize money, told the Washington Post that representatives of Jimmy Connors asked a $50,000 appearance fee on top of prize money for his participation in that event, which is not part of the grand prix.
They did not pay the fee, the organizers said, and Connors played in the televised event in January, losing to Borg in the final and collecting $50,000. Borg earned $100,000. None of the participations recieved any "side money," the organizers said.
Cliff Drysale, a player and member of the Pro Council, said "I think appearance fees are a problem, but not a major one. It's very difficult to prove, because if someone says he's getting paid $5,000 to endorse a Nigerian roller bearing, it's difficult to prove that's not legitimate.
"My hope and belief," continued Drysdale, who was the first president of the ATP, "is that tennis players will slowly begin to understand their obligations to the game that has given them so many opportunities to enrich themselves."