FORMER Wimbledon champion Boris Becker has called on the government to scrap “unfair” tax laws for foreign players, or risk more of the world’s top sportsmen boycotting British events.
Tennis star Rafael Nadal has already cancelled his annual appearances at Queen’s Club in protest at the controversial levy, while Olympic sprint champion Usian Bolt has shunned London meets for the same reasons.
Current laws mean foreign competitors pay tax not just on their prize money and appearance fees while in Britain, but also on their sponsorship and other commercial earnings, proportionate to time spent on these shores.
“It’s unfortunate,” Becker told City A.M. “I think we have to find a way for athletes from outside the country, because otherwise I think they will more often avoid coming to the UK and playing tennis tournaments or running a race because of this situation.
“It’s a question of principle. The fact that they are successful and earn a lot of money doesn’t mean they should be treated unfairly.
“This tax law is unique; it’s only in the UK, you don’t have it in Germany or France. If England wants to have the best athletes from abroad they have to change the system a little bit.” The German, 44 and now working as a media commentator, was speaking as an ambassador for the Ball Kids programme at this week’s Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London, said it was “natural” that he sided with his fellow athletes.
World No2 Nadal, who played in the competition at the O2 last night, has turned his back on playing at Queen’s Club, arguing that the extra time in London actually costs him money.
The Spaniard will prepare for Wimbledon at a German tournament instead, despite his affection for the capital and the practical benefits of playing a warm-up in the same city.
Bolt, the 100m and 200m world record holder, announced last year he would not be competing at the London Grand Prix at Crystal Palace because of the tax laws.
Fears have been raised that London could lose its status as host of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals when the current contract ends in 2013, unless tax laws are changed in the budget in March next year.
Roger Draper, chief executive of English governing body the Lawn Tennis Association, said this week that he was engaged in negotiations with the Prime Minister, Chancellor and the Treasury.
The government has awarded an exemption on the tax for competitors at next year’s London 2012 Olympics, as they did for football’s Champions League final at Wembley in May.
BORIS BECKER ON...
“Andy is there among the very best, he just has to show it in a Major final, because that’s where you are judged. Yes, he’s had a great year; yes, he’s No3 in the world, a great achievement by itself, but if you set out your goal to win a Major and you haven’t achieved it, critics are naturally going to come out.”
“He doesn’t have to prove a thing to anybody but he’s motivated, he must love tennis and enjoys performing on the big stage. Incredible guy. I think in patches he is still very much the player he was before.”
“This year’s been his best ever but 10 years down the road you want to be remembered not just for one year, but for being at the top for three or four. Novak knows that, so I hope he will come back and win another Major. Next year will be different – he’s going to be the hunted. Everybody wants his scalp.”