But is Rio ready for Roger…?

Leave a comment

The hallowed grounds of Wimbledon gave tennis its most memorable stage at the Olympics this past year, and home-grown gold medalist Andy Murray adding to the British fervor.

But as 2013 ticks closer and the Rio Games sit just three-and-a-half years away, little is known about what the first South American country to host the Olympics will conjure up for a tennis facility.

Over the last 10 days, Brazil has staged what could be seen as a testing tour for the Summer Games with the Gillette Federer Tour, a sponsored batch of exhibition matches headlined by — you guessed it! — Roger Federer.

The exhibitions taking place in Sau Paulo, Argentina, and Colombia were wildly advertised across South American TV and media outlets, with Gillette creating a viral video featuring Federer as a Brazilian soccer and volleyball star that garnered over seven million clicks on YouTube.

From a fan perspective, the swing has widely been viewed as a success, as near-sellout crowds watched six exhibitions that also featured Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, Juan Martin Del Potro, Maria Sharapova, Tommy Haas, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Brazil’s highest-ranked player, Tomaz Bellucci.

The tour, which took place over ten days, cemented the players’ support behind Brazil’s hosting of the 2016 Games. No support was greater than Federer’s, who said during his time there that he would cut back his schedule over the next few years, but still aim to play in Rio come 2016.

Lucia Hoffman, a Sao Paulo native and New York-based journalist, said the tennis world has turned its attention to a new source of money and fan interest.

“The players came to check out this new world of tennis that they have been told will become the new tennis destination on the tour,” Hoffman wrote in an email. “Almost like Asia became many years back… The new ATP CEO now he has his eyes on Brazil.”

The loss of two U.S. tennis events (in San Jose and Los Angeles) over the next two years is South America’s gain with the tournaments finding a new home there. Yet it remains unknown what surface (clay, most likely) or what sort of facility the Brazilians will construct or re-purpose for tennis in Rio.

While Federer voiced support for the fan turnout in Brazil, he noted that the aging Ibirapuera Stadium didn’t hold muster compared to ATP event sites when it comes to modern-day amenities.

“I think some things need to be improved if you want to make sure the fans have the best experience possible,” Federer told Estado de Sao Paulo. “This venue is a little old and it needs to be bigger, but the atmosphere is great and the fans incredible. There is no need to worry about that side of things.”

Hoffman said the fans not only treated Federer like royalty, but more like a soccer star, the ultimate South American compliment.

“This tour was huge, like a tsunami, for tennis in Brazil,” she wrote. “Brazilian TV was totally invested in it. So, from all social classes, all ages, people knew about the Gillette Federer Tour as much as they knew about their soccer. And in a country of 200 million, that’s huge.”

US women’s hockey agreement could have far-reaching impact

AP
Leave a comment

Cammi Granato‘s biggest victory in hockey came 12 years after she retired.

When USA Hockey and the women’s national team agreed to a contract Tuesday night that ended a wage dispute, Granato couldn’t put her happiness into words.

The Hockey Hall of Famer and her teammates staged a similar fight in 2000 without success, and she hopes the current team’s progress paves the way for the future of women’s hockey and even other sports.

“It’s bigger than any victory that we’ve had in USA Hockey,” said Granato, who won the gold medal in 1998 with the U.S. at the first Olympics with women’s hockey. “I just think it’s such a positive, positive day for women’s hockey, women’s sports and women in general.”

Granato and lawmakers, lawyers and experts see the U.S. national team’s agreement as a precedent-setter for other hockey teams around the world and other men’s and women’s athletes in this country.

As the U.S. women’s soccer team continues to work out a labor contract, the women’s hockey team showed how it could leverage solidarity and timing into a multiyear agreement that satisfied all parties involved and pushed gender quality in sports forward.

“I’m hoping it will create a wave across the country of more equity in pay,” said Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar, one of 20 senators to write to USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean encouraging him to end the dispute.

“We know that it’s not going to be exactly the same. We know the viewership numbers for some of these sports, but at least you have to try. When you try and you give them more funding, it’s kind of a chicken-and-egg problem.

“Once they’re able to actually support themselves and it’s more lucrative, you get more women going into the sport, then you have better sports and you have more people watching them.”

In that way, women’s hockey has taken the first step toward following women’s soccer, almost 20 years after the World Cup-winning team led by Mia Hamm, Brianna Scurry, Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain inspired Granato and her teammates to challenge USA Hockey.

Members of the U.S. women’s hockey team will now make $3,000-$4,000 a month with the ability to earn around $71,000 annually and up to $129,000 in Olympic years when combined with contributions from the U.S. Olympic Committee.

That’s still less than what women’s soccer players bring in, but now players won’t have to work second or third jobs – and half did – or retire to start a family because the new contract guarantees that protection along with insurance and other improvements.

Lawyer John Langel of Ballard Spahr, who represented soccer players from 1998-2014 and the hockey players in this negotiation, said hockey “shouldn’t necessarily take the same long journey” depending on how many strides are made in professional leagues, programming, marketing and sponsorships.

One immediate impact is lengthening careers, which has already shown to be the case in soccer and could transfer over to other sports.

Granato retired in 2005, but still felt as if she had “more to give” and finds it incredible that players in the current generation won’t have to hang up their skates as early as she did.

With a deal in place, the U.S. opens its world championship gold-medal defense Friday against Canada. Players had threatened to boycott the tournament over the wage dispute, which Pepper Hamilton labor and employment lawyer Matt DelDuca considers the most interesting aspect of the case.

“It shows other groups a path for trying to negotiate and use their leverage to negotiate a deal that’s favorable to them or that they’re satisfied with,” DelDuca said.

“It does really require solidarity though. You really need to have everybody together to make it work, and in this case they really seemed to have had that. In all those ways it is a benchmark for other groups to use.”

USA Hockey said all along its priority was to get a deal done, but did reach out to replacement players. Very few accepted the invite as star forward Hilary Knight and other top players espoused the solidarity of the entire player pool.

“There wasn’t any poaching of other players,” said North Dakota senator Heidi Heitkamp, another senator who wrote to Ogrean.

“They were all united in this common goal, and I think that competitive, athletic spirit really showed up in terms of fighting for your rights. I thought they deserved the support of people here who say that they support equality in pay and equality in opportunity.”

Susan Kahn, a University of Buffalo professor of women’s history, said the Senate’s involvement made it clear this wasn’t just a financial dispute, but “a political issue around equal treatment and fighting gender bias in amateur sport.”

Within hockey, the agreement allows for future expansion in the professional and amateur ranks.

“It sets the stage for a major growth in the game,” Granato said. “I think there’s a potential here to take this team and have it be followed similar to other women’s sports and where they’re at right now.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Stanley Cup-winning goalie joins U.S. women’s coaching staff

Russian pairs skater slices leg in worlds practice, needs 10 stitches (video)

Leave a comment

Russian pairs skater Yevgenia Tarasova needed 10 stitches after her partner’s skate sliced her leg in practice Wednesday.

Hours later, Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov skated to third place in the short program at the world championships in Helsinki.

“We were thinking about withdrawing because after this incident we left the ice immediately, there was a long break off the ice, we didn’t know how I would feel in skates,” Tarasova said afterward. “But when I was asked, ‘Will you skate?’ I said, ‘I will!’ And I wasn’t thinking about the pain during our performance.”

Morozov called her “a hero.”

In Thursday’s free skate, Tarasova and Morozov will be largely tasked with keeping Russia from going three straight years without world championships pairs medalists, which would be the longest drought for Soviet and Russian pairs since their dominance began in the 1960s.

Tarasova and Morozov trail Chinese leaders Sui Wenjing and Han Cong by 1.86 points and second-place Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot of Germany by .47.

Another Russian pair is in fifth place going into the free skate (1 p.m. ET, NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Full worlds short program results are here.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: U.S. pairs skater back from life-threatening condition