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Wimbledon Chief Ritchie Calls for Tax Exemption for ATP Finals

Feb. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Tennis’s ATP World Tour Finals should be given a similar tax waiver in the U.K. as soccer’s Champions League, Wimbledon’s outgoing head said.

Ten-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal won’t be preparing for Wimbledon at the grass courts of Queens in London this year because a U.K. tax on earnings of foreign athletes and entertainers working in the country would make him “lose money,” the Spaniard said last year. Team sports such as soccer are exempt from the tax, just like athletes visiting the country for the 2012 Olympics.

“The most important immediate thing is that the ATP World Tour Finals should be given an exemption,” Wimbledon Chief Executive Officer Ian Ritchie said in an interview at his office, which has a view of No. 2 Court at the All England Club in southwest London. “Because it’s a nomadic event that could go anywhere else in the world.”

The Tour Finals, traditionally held in November, are in the fourth year of a five-year contract at London’s O2 arena. It hasn’t been decided where the tournament will be held after that. The ATP Finals, played by the world’s top eight singles players and doubles pairs, was won by Grand Slam record holder Roger Federer of Switzerland last year.

“It’s been a huge success, 250,000 people every year in a great venue,” Ritchie said. “Everybody recognizes it’s going very well. Here is a situation where in order to keep that in London, we need to apply for a dispensation and I hope the government would look favorably on that. That’s within the established rules.”

Soccer Exemption

Foreign soccer players competing in the 2011 Champions League final at London’s Wembley Stadium between Barcelona and Manchester United were given a tax waiver by the U.K. government in 2010.

Ritchie, who has been in charge of the world’s only grass-court Grand Slam event since 2005, leaves the All England Club in two days’ time to become the new head of England’s Rugby Football Union.

Tennis is dealing with growing player dissatisfaction over an overcrowded calendar and distribution of prize money at the four Grand Slam tournaments. There was talk of a possible strike by players including Britain’s Andy Murray during last year’s U.S. Open.

The players’ total prize money accounts for between 12 to 16 percent of revenue at the Australian, French and U.S. opens. Wimbledon doesn’t disclose its revenue.

“The facts show that we haven’t been stingy with the prize money,” Ritchie said.

Increased Prizes

During Ritchie’s first full year in charge at Wimbledon in 2006, prize money for the male champion was set at 655,000 pounds ($1.03 million). Equal prize money was introduced in 2007 and last year champions Novak Djokovic of Serbia and Czech Petra Kvitova took home 1.1 million pounds each. The total pot of prize money jumped to 14.6 million pounds from 10.3 million pounds during the same period.

“You look at the increases since 2006, and anybody looking at that would find it difficult to say those weren’t -- in quite difficult economic times -- perfectly reasonable increases,” Ritchie said.

Ritchie played down “speculation” of possible strike action later on in the season.

“The thing I would certainly hope and believe -- and I can only talk about Wimbledon -- is that the relationship with the players has always been strong and good,” he said. “No reason to doubt that’s not going to continue.”

Soccer, Rugby

The 58-year-old has more than three decades experience in business, media and sport. He was appointed to the board of English soccer’s Football League in 2004 as its first independent director, and he is also a director for Wembley Stadium Ltd.

Ritchie said his experience with Wimbledon’s long-term commercial strategy -- it has agreements in place with sponsors including Slazenger dating back to as long as 100 years ago -- will help at the RFU.

English rugby has had a difficult year. Martin Johnson quit as national rugby team coach on Nov. 16 after his squad was knocked out of the quarterfinals of the World Cup in New Zealand. Johnson also had to deal with off-field incidents involving players and staff.

“A lot of people in a lot of businesses are forced to look at short-term gain rather than worrying about what’s the long term brand,” Ritchie said. “The beauty of Wimbledon has been those long-term partnerships and associations, how do you build those over the years? That’s not been an accident here, it’s been a similar policy for decades.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Danielle Rossingh at Wimbledon through the London sports desk at drossingh@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at celser@bloomberg.net.

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