FILE PHOTO: Tennis - Australian Open - Second Round - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, January 16, 2019. Australia's Ashleigh Barty waves to spectators after winning the match against China's Wang Yafan. REUTERS/Edgar Su
March 24, 2022
By Shrivathsa Sridhar and Frank Pingue
(Reuters) – Ash Barty’s retirement from tennis is symptomatic of how the new generation of players view their careers and sport must rise to the challenge of ensuring a healthier overall environment to retain its top talent, industry experts have told Reuters.
The Australian world number one announced her decision to retire on Wednesday. She said she had achieved everything she set out to and cited fatigue with life on the Tour.
Phil de Picciotto, head of sports agency Octagon, said Barty’s decision was indicative of players’ increasing awareness of the personal costs involved in sustaining an elite sporting career.
“To be excellent in anything requires sacrifice,” De Picciotto told Reuters. “There’s an extremely high level of dedication required for anyone to do exceptional work.”
Improving the overall environment for athletes is imperative for all stakeholders in the multi-billion dollar sporting industry, he added.
“This is a common objective,” De Picciotto said. “I think of everybody because brands, including human brands, like athletes, typically become more valuable over time.
“It’s in everybody’s interest that athletes play at a high, healthy level for as long as possible. It’s in everybody’s interest to build brands and to sustain success. It’s much more difficult to continue to rebuild time after time.”
De Picciotto said that athletes who had already earned big money at a young age needed to look for other reasons to stay in their sport.
“I think most of those are about human health and human enjoyment,” he said.
“And that’s a really good thing. You don’t want athletes to be playing simply because they feel it’s the only way that they’re going to make a living.”
For Ken Wong, marketing professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Barty’s decision to step away, like Naomi Osaka’s self-enforced break to focus on her mental health last year, is a clear sign of a changed mindset among players.
“We’ve got two women now who are coming out and saying, ‘I don’t care what the economic consequences are’ — let’s face it they both have enough money to live on for the rest of their days — ‘Why do I need this?'” Wong said.
Bob Dorfman, sports marketing analyst at Pinnacle Advertising in San Francisco, said the pandemic had also changed people’s priorities and elite-level athletes were no exception.
“It’s a gruelling process. It’s practice, practice, practice, tournaments. The physical side is gruelling, the mental side is equally gruelling. It’s a grind,” Dorfman said.
“For athletes who get to the top and then feel like, ‘Well I don’t need to do this… I can live off what I’ve already earned,’ there’s probably a lot more soul-searching in terms of career goals and achievements.”
“COVID has a lot to do with it these last two years. People have been reassessing what they want out of life… you’re seeing more concern about mental and emotional health versus winning and succeeding and making jillions of dollars at all costs.”
(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru and Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Toby Davis)