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Original Issue


The powers that rule international tennis last week encountered the same kind of frustration that often besets their political counterparts in the United Nations, and for much the same reason. The International Lawn Tennis Federation, like the U.N., is ordered by a set of rules deliberately designed to favor the status quo and discourage even constructive change.

Although it is not quite as lethal as the U.N.'s veto, the fact that a two-thirds majority is required to carry legislation in the ILTF provides a killing weapon for a willful or a timid minority. This is just what it did in Paris last week. Disregarding the wishes of a vast majority of fans in the "tennis countries," the federation resolutely decided to face backward for still another year and to defer into the unseeable future the problem of open tennis.

The 134 votes cast for open tennis were just five too few, even though they included those of all four major tennis powers—the United States, Australia, France and Great Britain. "We want the public in the United States to know," said Harold Lebair, one of three from this country, "that its delegates not only voted for the open but did their utmost to have it passed."

As part of that public we thank Mr. Lebair and urge him to try again next year. Meanwhile, along with thousands of others, we wish we could understand better those who voted him down. The timing of the Paris vote just after a dreary but financially successful amateur Wimbledon may have been part of it. But what seems really to have panicked the minority was an unreasoning fear that a vote for open tennis was a vote for Professional Promoter Jack Kramer. "Spain was against it because they knew I was trying to sign up Andres Gimeno," Kramer said after the vote. "And now I'm going to do just that. Ireland voted against because for some reason they felt it would put me in control of international tennis."

Actually, open tennis is the only way by which Kramer's raids on the ranks of topflight tennis can be effectively stopped. Pure amateurism, in the sense of playing a game for the fun of it, may indeed be the noblest form of sport—but it has almost nothing to do with organized competition. If a single individual acquires a vested interest in how or where the game is played, some compromise with the amateur status must be arranged. In the U.S. virtually every organized sport has reached, or attempted to reach, such a compromise. An "amateur" track and field man, for instance, cannot accept money for running or jumping, but he can accept it for eating, sleeping or traveling. Even though he takes no money at all an amateur basketball player can catch an incurable case of professionalism merely by playing with a pro while an amateur golfer can turn pro and then be "cured" merely by ceasing to play for money. An "amateur" bowler, on the other hand, can take all the money he can get.

All of these fine (and specious) distinctions represent attempts to reconcile reality with a sentimental and outdated notion. It is time that tennis and all the rest of organized amateur sport stopped shying violently at the mention of money. There may still be many true and honest amateur sportsmen, but where tickets are sold or gate receipts collected, there cannot be amateur sport. The game at Wimbledon, just like the games at Yankee Stadium, are being played for money—good, hard money paid into the box office.

Does the public still find some special aura of glory clinging to Maria Bueno and Neale Fraser because they are willing to serve as voluntary slave labor in the cause of good tennis? We doubt it. We doubt, too, that the paying public which—by the purchase of a ticket—put them under contract to play tennis at Wimbledon would have been just as happy if Neale and Maria had said, "Today, let's play hopscotch instead."

Absurd and ridiculous? Obviously. But no more so than tennis's absurd and ridiculous decision to go on pretending that Neale Fraser and Maria Bueno turned up at Wimbledon for the sole purpose of having a bit of fun in the sun.