Al-Khelaifi revolutionizes padel

Al-Khelaifi revolutionizes padel

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The Madrilenian Alejandro Galán, leader of the world ranking of padel, summarizes the moment in which his sport changed forever: “We got together with Nasser [Al-Khelaifi] and he made us an offer; From then on, our duty as self-employed workers is to defend the right to work”.

Until that 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 enjoyed the service of all players as freelancers. exclusively bound by contract. The one who took a step to the side 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, the host, Al-Khelaifi, opened a gap. President of the Qatar Tennis and Padel Federation, President of Paris Saint-Germain, and President of QSI, the sovereign sports investment fund that has placed his country at the epicenter of some of the most amazing projects in the entertainment industry , Al-Khelaifi saw a seam in the pallets.

“I met Nasser at the opening of the World Cup,” recalls Luigi Carraro, president of the International Padel Federation. “At dinner we talked about the organization of paddle tennis and in three minutes we agreed that something important could be built. We got together with the players and talked all night. They expressed to Nasser all the things that bothered them and from there this revolutionary project was born. 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 that exists, because like it or not, QSI is the best.

Al-Khelaifi proposed them to create Premier Padel, an international circuit that would be broadcast by the big sports networks and that would attract sponsors on an unknown scale, after agreeing prize pools of more than 200,000 euros (95,000 for the winning couple) in each of The six majors scheduled for the first season: Doha, Rome, Paris, Madrid, Mendoza (Argentina), and Monterrey (Mexico).

“Beyond economic conditions”, says Galán, “what I value most about Premier Padel is the freedom to choose when and where to play without depending on a private company”.

World Padel Tour responded by denouncing the international federation for unfair competition and demanding up to 49 million euros in compensation from paddlers for breaking their exclusivity commitment. The general director of WPT, Mario Hernando, did not respond to the call from this newspaper. The players did not flinch. “We are doing the right thing so that the sport grows,” says Brazilian Pablo de Lima, one of the most outstanding paddlers of the last decade. “They have said that we are mercenaries. We are talking about minimum conditions to live. There are top 100 players who in the last three years have billed five thousand euros. Calling them mercenaries is cruel. With Premier Padel many players will be able to live only from padel”.

Alejandro Villaverde, lawyer for the PPA players’ association, denounces a leonine link: “The contractual relationship that players have with the WPT is modern slavery. Players will fulfill their obligations by playing all tournaments pending. What we cannot validate is an imposed exclusivity that is contrary to the European Union treaty and that makes us complicit in a monopoly. Until now, guys who are ranked 60 have had to do other jobs to pay for their trips to tournaments. Our most urgent aspiration is that the top 100 in the ranking live and dedicate themselves exclusively to playing paddle tennis. This happens through an open market.”

After bringing together more than 25,000 spectators at Roland Garros and more than 30,000 at the Foro Italico, Premier Padel hopes to break its attendance record at the WiZink Center in Madrid, during the championship that runs from yesterday to Saturday. To the chagrin of the Spanish Federation, which observes with alarm the conflict with WPT, a company very close to them. “Everything that comes to Spain is welcome if they come as we would like”, says Ramón Morcillo, the president of the federation. “We would like Premier Padel to have a female category; in 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 dared to face the WPT. They may not be long. Ziad Hammoud, Al-Khelaifi’s right-hand man at QSI and executive par excellence at Premier Padel, points out that his intention has always been to create a mixed circuit: “Men and women have to be here,” he says. “The idea of ​​investment has an emotional part, since with Nasser and Luigi we saw that there were things that did not fit with the level of professionalism and quality of life that players should have. The second thing is to look for benefits”.

“Paddle”, observes 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 replicate with paddle tennis what we have done with PSG”.

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