Tennis and the Olympics

An historical examination of their on-off relationship since 1896

Authored by: Matthew P. Llewellyn , Robert J. Lake

Routledge Handbook of Tennis

Print publication date:  February  2019
Online publication date:  February  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138691933
eBook ISBN: 9781315533575
Adobe ISBN:


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The Olympic Games stand as the largest sporting phenomenon of the twenty-first century. Attracting the world’s premier sportsmen and sportswomen from 205 representative nations, as well as global television audiences soaring upwards of four billion viewers, the Olympics are a cultural, economic and political colossus (Guttmann 2002). The Games represent the apogee for the world’s greatest athletes, and under the intensive spotlight of the world’s media, elite international tennis players take their place alongside swimmers, basketballers, gymnasts, figure skaters and other professional athletes in the quest for gold medals, international recognition, lucrative commercial endorsements and other financial rewards. Tennis and its star professional players currently occupy a marquee position on the Olympic program. The popularity of Olympic tennis, however, obscures the sport’s long and troubled history with the Olympic Movement – a relationship which traces all the way back to 1896 and the inaugural summer games in Athens. As this chapter will reveal, haphazard organization, glaring mismanagement, and intense debates over the meaning and enforcement of amateurism prompted the International Lawn Tennis Federation (ILTF) to remove the sport from the Olympic Movement in the aftermath of the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris. Despite two appearances as an exhibition sport in 1968 and 1984, tennis remained estranged from the Olympic Movement until 1988 when International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Juan Antonio Samaranch issued orders to welcome tennis and its leading “professional” players back in time for the summer Olympic Games in Seoul.

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