Australian Open rocked by 'appalling' new controversy over ball kids

Tennis Australia has been called out over the fact they don't pay ball kids for their work at the grand slam tournament.

Ball kids, pictured here in action at the Australian Open.
Tennis fans have expressed their anger that ball kids don't get paid at the Australian Open. Image: Getty

The Australian Open is facing fresh calls to pay their ball kids after it came to light earlier this week that they work for free. Fans have flocked to social media in recent days to decry the fact that the kids don't get paid for the work they do, with some labelling it 'disgusting' and 'appalling'.

Ball kids get $15 per hour at the US Open, while at Wimbledon they get a flat rate of $351 per week. But it's very different at the Australian Open, with the kids taking part for the love of the sport and the experience.

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Tennis Australia offers its ball kids a gift bag and food allowance for the two-week event at Melbourne Park, however there is no monetary compensation. They were previously paid $40 until Tennis Australia reclassified the job in 2008 and made it a volunteer position.

Speaking on Channel 7 on Wednesday, journalist Justin Smith said: “Are we in a Dickens novel or something? Come on. Pay the kids.

“I’m shocked that they didn’t pay them. I think it devalues them appallingly. They should start forking out as soon as possible ... I really do, it’s devaluing them.”

Amanda Rose, a broadcaster and founding director of advocacy group 'Western Sydney Women', added: “Essentially, I think it conditions children at a young age that the experience is worth more than being paid. For girls in particular, I think it’s really important to actually say, ‘no, (we’re) worth this money .... It’s not a charity event.

A ball kid, pictured here removing water from the court at the Australian Open.
A ball kid removes water from the court at the Australian Open. (Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)

“You don’t want them going for a job in their 20s and being told that it is for the experience, and they are not getting paid. So they should get paid.”

One person who formerly worked as a ball kid took to Reddit this week to claim the experience was enough and that payment wasn't necessary. “I was a ball kid in the early 2000s and it’s probably one of the best things I’ve ever done," they wrote.

"Didn’t earn a cent but got heaps of free s***, food and made some great friends."

A ball boys, pictured here mopping up the court before the women's singles match between Barbora Krejcikova and Clara Burel.
A ball boys mops up the court before the women's singles match between Barbora Krejcikova and Clara Burel. (Photo by PAUL CROCK/AFP via Getty Images)

Anger over lack of pay for ball kids at Australian Open

The outrage around ball kids not being paid has only been exacerbated by some of the brutal conditions they've faced this week. One girl had to be taken from the court during 37 degree heat on Tuesday, before they were tasked with drying off courts with towels during rain delays.

That's not to mention the times they are yelled at by players or have booming serves sent in their direction. “How is this not child exploitation?” one user wrote on Reddit.

Another said: “It isn’t unreasonable to suggest the ball kids get paid for their time. It’s the sports version of artists getting paid in exposure.”

But another defended the lack of pay, writing: “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 ball kids to work for free.

“No one needs to be a ball kid 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.”

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