It went something like this, "He could become the number one player in the world if he wins this event." Danny lavely was commenting on Polo Gutierrez and his current ranking situation during the World Racquetball Tour's live stream of their Monterrey Open this past weekend. It was a comment that instantly had me thinking because I questioned it internally. In the perspective that Danny was talking from, it is a true enough statement. Though my thoughts fell towards a belief, that, it's only from that perspective, can anyone agree with that statement.
The WRT has been grinding out it's alternative tour model for more than two years now. It seems they are getting some traction with their "player support" model. By player support, I'm referencing the large part of their event operating budget that goes to fulfilling the need for travel and lodging the players face. And the traction I'm pointing to is event sponsor backing, especially in Mexico.
The WRT streams their events and it seams that is, obviously, a major part of their operating budget at events. If you think about the cost that could be incurred transporting and housing players, that number can increase exponentially. Trying to solve the player funding dilemma the sport has faced is not easy. Really good racquetball players tend to want to play professionally, but the sport is just not big enough to sustain a large amount of professionals making racquetball their sole occupation. And for professional tours, it's all about showcasing players. The WRT's efforts to quickly transfer their streams to an open access on Youtube and actually have quality players at their stops are starting to gain attention here in the US and more significantly in Mexico. (Their Juarez Grand Slam semifinals and final matches have garnered almost 6000 views in the 3 months they've been posted. That is relatively pretty good.)
The WRT needs to make sure good players show up to play their events. Their top ranked players aren't as strong as the International Racquetball Tour's top-top players, hence, my curiosity about my beginning statement. I use the word "yet" because they can, however compete strongly with mid-pack IRT ranked players. As the top-top IRT players cycle out of their careers, those younger mid-pack players will move to the top. Where could things be then in terms of competition? Incorporated in this thinking is the thought that the WRT envisions itself as a tour that provides a more open opportunity for players to gain professional experience by making the draws "even draws" at their stops. The IRT's top 8 players don't play until the round of 16, making it easier to play through because they inherently play less games. There is a solid and valid view for this, because after all, top players are the draws for their tours. Some may argue that the "even draw" could be bad for for top players because they have to play through early rounds at each and every event, making it harder for the individual top player. But the WRT facilitates their success by providing the resources their players need to actually make more events, hence the chance for more prize money. All that in turn, adds to the appeal for local players to get excited about playing visiting WRT events.
There are many really good players with the potential to compete at this level that just don't have the resources to make continual tour stops. With the WRT trying to facilitate this experience for players so early in it's operating models, they had to think alternatively to try and find ways that allow more strong talented players an opportunity to pursue events regularly. The Reaching Your Dream Foundation was created trying to solve that problem. The product of some serious discussions early this year, the foundation received its 501c 3 status in April and tax exempt status in June. The foundation only started delivering funding to assist players in September, immediately making it easier for players to access WRT events and the US Open these past months. What RYDF has discovered, is that raising money to help players pursue their dream of becoming a professional racquetball player is not an easy endeavor. As the norm for non-profits, there has been a serious rethink of their core mission early in its existence. Consequently, RYDF has begun to implement comprehensive programming that demands much more from the WRT in return for the funding players receive. Social responsibility in the way of community access, health and fitness and valuable experience has become a main focus for the foundation. Right now, this comprehensive engagement is being played out on the WRT and in planning for a Stockton community engagement effort. RYDF's main goal is to broaden it's reach with hopes of positively improving the professional climate of the sport.
What does all this have to do with being the number one ranked player in the world? Two words can address this question with relevance are "perspective" and "world". The right question in response could then be, "Who's world?"