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Monday April 15, 2024

Players Association steps up welfare commitment with free healthcare service

PTPA was established by Novak Djokovic and Vasek Pospisil in 2020

By REUTERS
March 03, 2024
Canadas Vasek Pospisil (left) and Serbias Novak Djokovic shake hands after their mens singles quarter-final tennis. — AFP/File
Canada's Vasek Pospisil (left) and Serbia's Novak Djokovic shake hands after their men's singles quarter-final tennis. — AFP/File

BENGALURU: All tennis professionals will have round-the-clock access to free medical expertise under a programme launched this week by the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA) which aims to level the playing field in healthcare.

The PTPA, which was established by Novak Djokovic and Vasek Pospisil in 2020, said its MedNet programme, which is available immediately, will connect players to a global network of specialists to give them continuity of care.

Unlike in many sports, tennis players are independent contractors and have had to look out for themselves with respect to healthcare beyond what is provided on-site at tournaments.

Former world number three Dominic Thiem said the programme would have been exactly what he needed when a wrist issue in 2021 stalled his career.

“I had to fend for myself and if you’ve never had such an injury before, it’s always difficult because you naturally don’t have contacts with the best doctors,” the former U.S. Open champion said via email.

“I was lucky enough to eventually be referred to a specialist through several connections. I was also fortunate that my partner, Redbull, provided superb support.

“But only a few have these circumstances and for players who don’t, a doctor provided by the PTPA is a huge help.”

Having spent the last 18 months talking to players about the problems they faced, the PTPA found the two topics that came up most frequently were travel and healthcare.

The MedNet service, which is accessible to all players on the circuit, will be overseen by the association’s inaugural Medical Director, Robby Sikka.

A 24-7 hotline will be available to players throughout the year, allowing them to come forward with medical concerns, seek opinions or independent secondary opinions in addition to the advice they get from Tour doctors.

Apart from being able to work directly with Sikka, players can also access his SMART platform, which will provide bespoke health tips.

In the case of specific injuries, Sikka will refer players to a doctor in his network and ensure they get fast-tracked appointments before following up to enable a quick recovery.

“This is about making the number one player, the number 10 and the number 200 equal in access to care,” Sikka told Reuters in a Zoom call.

“It’s saying ‘hey, men and women are receiving the same care. It’s the same medical director on both sides’. We don’t see that in the WNBA, the NBA or many of the other sports.”

PTPA Executive Director Ahmad Nassar said the service would allow players to maintain a connection with physicians who have proven expertise in specialist areas of healthcare.

“If a player hurts their wrist at a tournament. They would see the on-site doctor for immediate treatment. After that, they leave the tournament city to return home,” Nassar said.

“At this point, players are on their own and won’t see that doctor until the next year. They may ask agents or other players for referrals to wrist specialists - maybe someone’s dealt with something similar in the past?

“Rather than depend on anecdotal advice, MedNet will provide resources and data to help guide players.”

Sikka said personalised injury care was vital, pointing out that a young player’s needs were likely to be very different from those of a veteran like Rafa Nadal.

“Every person has their own algorithm and their own self-interest that’s unique to them,” added Sikka.

“When you’re a typical doctor, you’re saying they’re just another person coming through the office. What the PTPA wants to do is get to know every player.”

PTPA Deputy Executive Director Romain Rosenberg said the programme, which will be run by funds the PTPA generates through its commercial initiatives, was aimed at supplementing the efforts of the game’s various governing bodies.

“We’re not here to replace or compete. We’re augmentative in everything we do,” Rosenberg said.

He added that an improvement in healthcare outcomes was closely aligned with the aims of the PTPA, which was started to better protect the interests of players.