Poor old Andy Murray. He was only a ginger whisker away. It was just a shot, they say, that barred him from the glory of the Wimbledon final. We all saw the moment in the second set when he had Nadal pinned and wriggling, with the whole of the right hand court exposed. All Andy had to do was keep his cool and thump it over with all the skill and violence we know him to possess; and then he mishit and whoof – it was like a soufflé taken too early from the oven.
The finest tennis writers in the land are still punishing their keyboards with the psychological post-mortems. All sorts of theories will continue to be produced for that sudden lassitude in the fiery Scot, the visible evaporation of the killer instinct. Some will say that it was a sort of self-fulfilling horror of becoming the next Tim Henman. Some will want to look again at the background field of causation – the systemic weakness of British tennis, perhaps, or the shortage of coaches or the 50-year decline of competitiveness in school sports. All these things may or may not be relevant to Britain’s continuing failure to produce a Wimbledon champion. But no one has so far been so vulgar as to ask the million pound question. What about the money?
I was glad to see George Osborne and Mervyn King in the crowds at Wimbledon last week – not just because they are quite right to support a great London business. They were beholding a symbolic pageant of Britain’s global competitiveness. There were 12 nations in the last 16 of Wimbledon, including some of our most important economic rivals. We had representatives from America and Latin America; we had the Russians and the newly market-driven ex-eastern bloc countries; and there was a good smattering of our historic counterparts from western Europe. Now let us imagine that each of these players had won the £1.1 million prize money and dutifully carried it home for the inspection of the local taxman in his own country. It is a stunning fact that Britain’s Andy Murray would have faced a more vicious fiscal clobbering than virtually anyone else at Wimbledon.
Spain had three players in the last 16, including Rafael Nadal. In spite of his country’s enormous budgetary problems, Rafa would have paid less than Andy – 47 per cent; and the Spanish got rid of their patrimonio, or wealth tax, two years ago. Moving down the tax rates, we come next to Australia’s Bernard Tomic, who faced a bill of 45 per cent. The three French players were going to be hit for 40 per cent tax – mais oui. We used to think of France as a much higher tax economy than our own, where people were bled white to pay for their trains to go at tres grande vitesse; now their top rate is fully 10 points lower than our own. The American Mardy Fish and the Argentinian Juan Martin del Potro were facing bills of only 35 per cent.
But it is when we come to the former communist countries that we see some really astonishingly generous incentives. In every case, an eastern European or Russian victor would have kept more than three quarters of his winnings. Guess how much income tax Novak Djokovic can expect to pay on his triumph of last night? A mere 20 per cent. No wonder he strains and trains. No wonder he fixes the ball with that implacable hawklike gaze, and chases shots that a lesser player would regard as hopeless. Then look across at the women’s game, and all those lissom Pullovas and Legovas from countries that were once beyond the Iron Curtain. What is their secret? I suppose they may retain the vestiges of commie military style training for sport. But it may not be irrelevant that their tax rates are all lower than 30 per cent.
If the Polish Lukasz Kubot had won, he would have done even better than Djokovic. He faced a bill of 19 per cent flat rate. The Czech Tomas Berdych would have got away with as little as 15 per cent. It seems that Roger Federer of Switzerland has been eligible for a piffling 13.2 per cent on his stupendous income over the years – and money is surely among the embrocations that has kept his genius so elastic for so long. But the man with the most sensationally low theoretical income tax bill was Russia’s Mikhail Youzhny, who would have been asked to make a derisory contribution of 13 per cent.
Only Belgium’s Xavier Malisse would have been notionally required to pay more than Andy. But we should remember that the Belgian top rate of 53 per cent is more honoured in the breach than the observance, and that Brussels remains very handy for those splendidly discreet banks in Luxembourg; and in any event, if you add in National Insurance (as we must), then Andy would have been forced to part with even more than the Belgian. I am not for a second suggesting that money is the most important incentive for a great tennis player. No doubt there are more powerful imperatives: the lust for fame and glory and the hope of bringing honour to your country. And we must be realistic, and accept that Britain was not notably better at producing Wimbledon champions when our taxes were lower. But don’t forget that these guys are professionals.
Andre Agassi once described the numbing tedium of endlessly bashing a ball over a net. We can’t rule out the possibility, at the margin, that money will make a difference – perhaps not in the adrenalin frenzy of Wimbledon, but in the daily grind of training that is the life of a working player, and that is essential for success. I am not saying that the 50p rate is the only problem: if we were to cut taxes now, it might be best to start with VAT to get people shopping again. But we need to remember that we can’t compete endlessly with other nations that set their income taxes substantially lower than ours. They will attract jobs, and investment. They may generate more tax – and they may even persuade their tennis champs to run that extra half yard for the ball.
3 thoughts on “Wimbledon 2011: Game, set and tax – why Andy Murray will always get clobbered”
I’m completly with you on the 50p tax. It’s abhorrent, and actually if taxes for everyone fell then it would be good for everyone, as money gets recyled around the economy.
But I just can’t agree with a cut in VAT. When Labour did it, it didn’t work, and we all ridiculed them for it. If we did it, it wouldn’t work either, but it would cost us a lot of money. Taking 2% (or so) off VAT would make little or no difference to national consumption.
Boris do you not work as hard as you might as mayor because your marginal tax rate is 50%?
Why do you assume others are different from you?
I used to pay tax at 60% in the early mid-eighties did I like it? no, did I work less hard? no harder in fact because I needed a particular after-tax income. if the tax rate had been lower i could then have worked less hard
don’t be seduced by such old-fashioned arguments from greedy city spivs
Bonjour Boris, I havn’t posted anything to you for a long time. Lying in my pit down here in deepest Gascony, I was reminiscing about my Sundays at my pitch at the Bayswater Road Art Exhibition. I upped stumps and came here eleven years ago. One of the reasons was Sunday trading on Oxford Street was making it unbearable, with the volume of traffic. Often it would take me 3/4 hour to get from there to Westminster Bridge on my way home.
My Father, also a painter, used to drive us from Kent during the 50s to view the art and visit the museums, etc. In the 60s I did the same with my girlfriends. They were great Sundays, especially when the weather was fine. When I was exhibiting there it became a living hell. Sunday trading has ruined London except for the traditional markets and our show! Just had to get that off my chest. Where’s Angela, by the way?
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