The Madrilenian Alejandro Galán, leader of the padel world rankings, summarizes the moment when his sport changed forever: “We teamed up with Nasser [Al-Khelaifi] and he made us an offer; From then on, it is our duty as self-employed to defend the right to work.”
Until this day, November 15, 2021, professional padel was developed under the iron bell of the World Padel Tour, the company that managed the only relevant circuit in the world and that, as a freelancer, enjoyed the services of all players exclusively bound by contract . Whoever stepped aside was out of the paddle: legally and economically.
The regime had no leaks until last November 15, on the occasion of the World Cup in Qatar, when the host, Al-Khelaifi, opened a loophole. President of the Qatar Tennis and Padel Federation, President of Paris Saint-Germain and President of QSI, the state sports investment fund that has placed his country at the epicenter of some of the entertainment industry’s most amazing projects, Al-Khelaifi saw a seam in the palettes.
“I met Nasser at the opening of the World Cup,” recalls Luigi Carraro, President of the International Padel Federation. “Over dinner we talked about organizing paddle tennis and in three minutes we agreed that something important could be built. We sat down with the players and talked all night. They expressed all the things to Nasser , which bothered them and from this came this revolutionary project, it is difficult to find such a perfect sports management model, because here you have the International Federation, the Players’ Association, PPA and the best commercial partner there is, because if you want it or not, QSI is the best.
Al-Khelaifi proposed them to set up Premier Padel, an international circuit that would be broadcast by the major sports channels and attract sponsors to an unknown extent, after agreeing on prize pools of more than 200,000 euros each (95,000 for the winning pair of the six). majors planned for the first season: Doha, Rome, Paris, Madrid, Mendoza (Argentina) and Monterrey (Mexico).
“Apart from the economic conditions,” says Galán, “what I value most about Premier Padel is the freedom to choose when and where to play, without being dependent on a private company”.
The World Padel Tour responded by denouncing the international federation for unfair competition and demanding up to €49 million in compensation from paddlers for breaching their exclusivity obligation. WPT Director General Mario Hernando did not respond to the newspaper’s call. The players didn’t flinch. “We’re doing the right thing to make the sport grow,” says Brazilian Pablo de Lima, one of the most outstanding paddlers of the past decade. “They said we were mercenaries. We are talking about minimum living conditions. There are top 100 players who have billed five thousand euros in the last three years. Calling them mercenaries is cruel. With Premier Padel, many players will only be able to make a living from padel”.
Alejandro Villaverde, attorney for the PPA Players’ Association, denounces a lion-like connection: “The contractual relationship that players have with the WPT is modern day slavery. Players fulfill their commitments by playing all pending tournaments. What we cannot confirm is an imposed exclusivity that contradicts the EU treaty and makes us accomplices to a monopoly. Previously, 60th place boys had to do other jobs to fund their travel to tournaments. Our most urgent wish is that the top 100 of the ranking live and are dedicated exclusively to paddle tennis. This is done through an open market.”
After bringing together more than 25,000 spectators in Roland Garros and more than 30,000 in the Foro Italico, Premier Padel hopes to break its attendance record at the WiZink Center in Madrid during the championship, which runs from yesterday to Saturday. To the chagrin of the Spanish federation, which is watching with concern the conflict with WPT, a company very close to it. “Anyone who comes to Spain is welcome if they come as we wish,” says Ramón Morcillo, the association’s president. “We would like Premier Padel to have a female category; At the WPT, women have the same prizes as men. In Spain, paddle tennis is a boom thanks to the fact that 40% of the licenses are for women”.
“We want men and women”
From the players’ union, they point out that women have not yet ventured into the WPT. They mustn’t last long. Ziad Hammoud, Al-Khelaifi’s right-hand man at QSI and executive par excellence at Premier Padel, points out that it has always been his intention to create a mixed circuit: “Men and women have to be here,” he says. “There is an emotional part to the idea of investing, as we saw with Nasser and Luigi that there are things that don’t match the level of professionalism and quality of life that players should have. The second thing is to look for advantages.”
“Paddling,” notes Hammoud, “is the fastest growing sport in the world and we want to give it visibility. Spain is clearly the country of padel and the capital of padel is Madrid. But the big growth will come from Italy, France and the Nordic countries. We want to repeat with paddle tennis what we did with PSG.”
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