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Is this the end of World Padel Tour?

The International Padel Federation –FIP- announced today the Official New Global Tour, in partnership with Qatar Sports Investment and Professional Players Association –PPA-.

Once upon a time there was the Beefeater Padel Circuit, an Opel Padel Tour and many other independent -classic- tournaments. Each of them growing in size and promotion. Later, in 2006, it evolved into the Padel Pro Tour (PPT). PPT was a professional padel circuit owned by several private sports and event promoters. It was initiated in agreement with the today extinct Association of Professional Padel Players (AJPP) and Association of Spanish Female Padel Players (AFEP). In 2013, Set Point Events SL, a subsidiary of the Damm group of mostly beer related companies, founded the World Padel Tour and took over PPT. Since then, World Padel Tour has been independently running and governing professional padel.

But sometime in the near past, business tycoon Nasser Al-Khelaiffi felt in love with padel. He organized the last World Padel Championship in Qatar, where he apparently got acquainted with several professional padel players and board members of the International Padel Federation -FIP-. He then proposed to help create a new professional padel circuit in partnership with the recently created Association of Professional Players –APP- that would fall under the FIP umbrella.

For your reference, Al-Khelaiffi is, among others, Chairman of Qatar Sports Investment, beIN Sports -a dominant TV sports network in Middle-East, Africa and nearly twenty other countries- and CEO of Paris Saint-Germain FC.

So, what is all the fuss about this new announcement?

Throughout the years, professional padel players have been complaining about their working conditions at World Padel Tour. Thou they appreciate the development and well-polished image that WPT brought to padel broadcasts since 2013, they expected better price money and more international events.  At the same time, FIP has for long had the aspiration to govern, organize and regulate professional padel, but it lacked the financial means and the status to do it.

It appears that smart Al-Khelaiffi was able to put all parts of the puzzle together.  According to several reports, since the World Championship Al-Khelaiffi has been meeting and negotiating with FIP and Alejandro Galan –no.1 ranked player and President of APP- to put together a new global circuit.

And the result is this: a new international padel circuit that will showcase a minimum of ten tournaments in 2022 and 2023 ramping up to twenty five in 2024. Dates, locations, prize money, branding, sponsors and broadcasters are due to be announced shortly.

The new circuit should grant FIP control and ruling over professional padel and partial ownership to the players.

How about the World Padel Tour?

World Padel Tour is not going down without a fight. All professional padel players have an exclusive agreement with World Padel Tour until 31st December 2023.  In theory, professional padel players should continue to play exclusively for WPT until the end of the contract. In fact, eyeing the possible early exit of the professional players, WPT has already threatened all contracted players with legal action and punitive fines of up to €500,000 in a letter two week ago. That’s about ten times what top padel players can hope to make in a year from tournaments.

Thus, this is likely to go to court if the professional players jump ship this year. Or perhaps, as Politico suggests, the EU Commission could get involved and relief the athletes from their commitments. “While EU competition regulators have shown reluctance to act on complaints in the sports world, the Commission in 2017 ordered ice skating’s governing body to scrap “disproportionately punitive” sanctions for athletes who participate in events the federation has not authorized.”  According to a senior executive with direct knowledge of the matter “…The FIP and elite players are now preparing to submit a complaint about the exclusive contracts to the European Commission on competition grounds…” The FIP has also accused the World Padel Tour of playing events not in accordance with its technical and disciplinary rules.

In the meantime, World Padel Tour announced prominent Mediapro as its new broadcasting rights agent and a new calendar for 2022, which includes twenty four tournaments and three exhibitions.