Australian Open 2023: Social media uproar over discovery that ballkids work for free, while being paid at Wimbledon, US Open

Being a ballkid at the Australian Open seems like a dream come true – the chance to interact with your heroes on the biggest tennis stage of them all.

It’s hard work however, with ballkids under strict working conditions in Melbourne’s brutal January heat.

Around 2500 kids apply to be ballkids every year, with less than one in five of them actually successful.

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Those who are have gone through a year-long selection process to reach the tournament proper, with intense training that drills down into the specifics of whether or not their thumbs are tucked when displaying how many balls they have on them at any one time.

Along with being yelled at by angry players and the constant fear of being at the centre of a viral moment, ballkids are under immense pressure for the duration of the Open.

Despite this, they’re not paid a cent, a revelation that’s caused uproar on social media in recent days.

“How is this not child exploitation?” asked one Reddit user, noting that Australian Open ballkids were paid until they were reclassified as volunteers in 2008.

“It isn’t unreasonable to suggest the ballkids get paid for their time,” said another.

“It’s the sports version of artists getting paid in exposure.”

While Australian ballkids swelter in the summer heat for the promise of being up close with their idols and a prize pack that in the past has included GoPros, bluetooth speakers and headphones, other Grand Slams remunerate the children that are essential to keeping the tournament going.

The All-England Club has a similarly rigorous selection process for ballkids when Wimbledon rolls around, but they’re paid a stipend of £200 a week ($351 AUD).

The United States Tennis Association, organisers of the US Open, also pay their ballkids a wage, although it typically sits at the New York minimum wage of around $15 AUD an hour.

Not everyone thinks that it’s such a big deal, however.

One Reddit user in response to the thread said: “Volunteering can be problematic when there’s implicit pressure or coercion to perform labour voluntarily, producing profit for an organisation that the individual doesn’t get to share in.

“There is no implicit pressure on ballkids to work for free.

“No one needs to be a ballkid at the Australian Open for exposure or career purposes.

“Kids jump at the chance because it’s an awesome opportunity – there’s no exploitation here, move along.”

Another user said “the kids are tennis crazy – (they) love the experience.”

The merchandise that the kids get was also a central point in many responses, with one saying: “they get to keep a lot of cool stuff given to them by Australian Open organisers – calling this child exploitation is an insult to the real exploitation that goes on overseas.”

“Maybe focus on that first.”

Ballkids have been at the centre of attention early in this year’s Open, with Rafael Nadal losing a racquet to a ballkid mistakenly taking away the one he was using to be restrung.
“I need the racquet back, ballboy take my racquet,” Nadal said.

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