Monday, 9 March 2009

Mark Petchey on 'Show Me the Money'...

After yesterday's post on the bleak state of British Tennis and 2Hander's followup assessment (one which I largely agree with), I thought it would be worth sharing this article by Mark Petchey, as he seems to share our frustration and suggests more 'out of the box' ways at how we might improve things. He also includes a fascinating breakdown of how the LTA choses to channel the whopping £37.1 million it received from Wimbledon - literally showing us (in no uncertain terms) the money!

GB's inability to produce quality players capable of competing at the higher levels of the game, is a source of great frustration to most British tennis lovers as the LTA, whatever else you may think about it, does not want for cash. Yet they continue to pour money into initiatives which ultimately only benefit the well off.

Like Petchey, I don't blame the British players, though I was a little incensed to learn that a player ranked outside of the top 200 can command funding of up to £50k - correct me if I'm wrong, but that's more than the total prize money on offer at some of the lower level ATP events! I wonder what Ana (suddenly those images of her bashing double handers in an emptied out swimming pool seem less cheesy), Novak and countless others that have risen in the rankings these last few years would have to say about that!

So what's gone wrong Petchey?

Too much of this money is spent in areas where it isn't helping build tennis courts, subsidise coaching, putting rackets in the hands of kids and growing the sport from the bottom up.

I don't want to put too fine a point on this, hence the somewhat clumsy bold type face of the points I strongly agree with. In fact we couldn't agree more if we tried. I grew up playing on cement Tennis Courts at my local Park, and although there were one or two cracks with grass growing in between it (and one rather large mole hill!) was a little lucky that for a good few years they were well maintained and accessible price wise. Not so many children had that type of access up and down the country.

The point he makes that stands out for me most is that of subsidised coaching. I saw so much talent and love for the game during those years in my early teens, that I can't help but wonder what might have been had they had access to quality regular coaching sessions. But coaching, along with many other initiatives was (and for the most part continues to be) invariably tied to Club participation - which is simply beyond the reach of most families.

The time has come to disband the LTA in its present structure. In its place should be a group of about eight people who decide how best the money should be spent. In this group I would like to see Tim Henman, David Lloyd and Judy Murray. Not all the services and departments can be discarded, but the cost saving would be immense and would allow substantial investment in grassroots tennis.

Now you're talking Petchey - though I never had you down as a revolutionary! That could almost be construed as fighting talk (!), though it's interesting you chose to include Tim Henman (and not Greg Rusedski who already has a talent spotting role) in your elite band of mercenaries. Not that I don't think he would add something useful to the money spending debate, it's just I don't think he's ever said he wants a role like that either within or outside of the LTA.

The substantial reduction in the cost to parents because of the investment in clubs would ensure a healthy flow of players taking up the game and staying in it. We simply have too few players. The reason is that tennis is still too expensive and for many parents it becomes a labour of love.

A point we've already made and that can't be stressed enough.
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