/ 12 December 2011

Soweto Open called off amid sponsorship crisis

South African tennis received another major blow on Monday with the news that the successful and innovative Soweto Open, which was due to be staged for a fourth year in April, has been called off.

This was confirmed by the South African Tennis Association (Sata) chief executive Ian Smith, who said the Johannesburg City Council, which had sponsored the event since its inception in 2009, had not renewed its contract due to financial constraints.

“Without a sponsor there was no way we could stage the Soweto Open in April,” Smith said.

He added, however, that Sata would continue its search for a sponsor in the hope of staging the Soweto Open towards the end of 2012.

“We have a deadline of late May or early June to find a sponsor and get ATP sanction for a Challenger tournament,” Smith said.

“It won’t be easy but we are not giving up yet to bring international tennis to South Africa in 2012 at men’s and women’s level.”

SA Open
At this juncture, though, South Africa has been left without a major tennis tournament next year after the even more crippling setback resulting from the termination of the ATP-sanctioned SA Open at Montecasino.

“The Johannesburg Council were enthusiastic supporters of the Soweto Open, not only because it brought international tennis to Soweto for the first time, but because of its value in boosting development in the area among up-and-coming young players,” Smith said.

It had also been mooted that the Soweto Open could embrace the status of the defunct SA Open.

However, Smith said the Johannesburg Council felt the current financial climate left them with no alternative but to halt their backing of the event at the Arthur Ashe Tennis Centre.

Ironically, the latest blow for South African tennis comes at a time when the country’s top players, led by Kevin Anderson and Chanelle Scheepers, have enjoyed a relatively successful year.

Anderson, who won the SA Open in January, improved his ATP ranking to a career-best 30th and Scheepers, who won her first WTA Tour title in Guangzhou in September, appeared among the top 40 women for the first time.

South Africa also reached the playoffs for a place in the Davis Cup World Group for the third successive year before losing to a formidable Croatian line-up in Potchefstroom.

“Our problems regarding sponsorship are far from unique,” Smith said.

“They are worldwide and affecting most sports as one international financial crisis follows another.” — Sapa