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Wimbledon accused of ‘exploiting’ tennis fans after joining NFT craze – even as crypto

The product’s launch this week said “ten digital masterpiece collectibles, minted on the blockchain” would “recognise the storied history that has unfolded upon the now hallowed turf”. A ballot is taking place in which collectors will eventually purchase one of the limited-edition digital assets, valued at £500 each. Purchasers can also “use whatever currency they choose to buy them – pounds, dollars, euros, and cryptocurrencies”, the All England Club said.

“This is not a money making or speculation enterprise,” a Wimbledon spokeswoman insisted in response to criticism yesterday. “It is a community-building exercise, to learn about the benefits of this very early technology – which is akin to the early days of the internet. There are many, many types of ‘NFT’ – the range is akin to auctioning the Mona Lisa at Christie’s on one end of the spectrum with someone running a raffle at their local church. It is a very broad space.

However, as Bitcoin – a benchmark for the broader crypto market – plunged in value by another nine per cent on Saturday, campaigners said there was a risk the scheme could lure tennis fans into investing in the unstable markets. Martin Calladine, who authored ‘Fit and Proper People: The Lies and Fall of OWNAFC’, said: “It’s really disappointing to see Wimbledon exploiting tennis fans. There’s never been a worse time to launch an NFT scheme nor a worse time to buy them. After the recent crypto crashes and numerous failed sports NFT projects, organisations can no longer claim the benefit of the doubt when these products lose fans money. All Wimbledon is going to achieve is to harm its reputation.”

Matt Zarb-Cousin – a key lobbyist behind an imminent White Paper which could ban betting adverts on shirts – also says he is becoming increasingly worried about NFTs, which lure fans into investing in unstable markets.

“The prestige of Wimbledon is the latest in a long line of attempts to sportswash crypto-based fan tokens and NFTs,” Zarb-Cousin, of Clean-Up Gambling added. “The prospective use case for blockchain technology in currency and intellectual property has been called into question as crypto markets crash. And in that context, owning digital artwork on a blockchain is as meaningful as copying and saving a jpeg for free.”

The crypto market has sustained particularly acute pressure in recent weeks, with lending company Celsius freezing withdrawals and transfers between accounts. Bitcoin is down about 59 per cent this year, while rival cryptocurrency Ethereum-backed ether is down 73 per cent.

Wimbledon, however, insists its scheme is to attract collectors rather than crypto investors. “What we have created here is incomparable to other sports-based NFTs,” the spokeswoman said. Under the ballot system, an individual can only purchase one collectible each. The club also pointed out “it is a closed marketplace on a very particular type of blockchain to reduce the ability for speculators to participate”.

Wimbledon also denied the suggestion from critics that the scheme could lure collectors into cryptocurrency investment. “The value is pegged to the pound value, not the crypto value – so we aren’t asking fans to invest in unstable markets,” the club said. “They are buying it to own it. Not to invest and re-sell it.”

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