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British failings need to be properly identified

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Jonathan Overend | 15:08 UK time, Monday, 29 March 2010

The report from the All-Party Parliamentary Tennis Group investigating the spending of the Lawn Tennis Association failed to deliver the knockout blow that some were hoping for, but it contains enough intrigue to suggest the inquest is far from over.

The group chaired by Baroness Billingham was asked by the Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe to interview the LTA management, Sport England and various independent critics to establish whether tax payers' money is being used wisely.

In addition to the annual Wimbledon millions, the LTA receives money from the National Lottery via Sport England and is currently one year into a four-year contract worth £26m.

Baroness Billingham and co made it clear that they had "no powers to challenge the workings of the LTA" - and certainly there is no direct criticism of LTA management or any calls for resignations or funding cuts - but the report raises a number of key issues, with plenty to read between the lines.

"We feel it is crucial that the LTA should be more transparent and accountable in the setting of their priorities and the use of their funds," it read.

"The LTA should be asked for costed plans for all of their initiatives, which should reflect priorities arrived at following meaningful consultation with everyone involved in the sport. Sport England share this responsibility and, as experts in the field, should be forensic both in distribution of funds and outcomes.

"In particular, care should be taken to ensure that the bonuses paid to LTA staff are in clear recognition of quantifiable success in performance. Grass roots tennis... ought to be at the top of the LTA's priorities."

There are two very interesting themes which emerge after reading the report several times.

The first is the panel's underlying frustration that it did not have more time for scrutiny and a sense that there is more to be discovered beneath the surface.

"We regret time didn't allow us a broader review," it added. "We should have had input from county associations, clubs, schools and individuals working as volunteers."

In a letter to the Sports Minister, the panel, made up of MPs and peers, advised that representatives from these areas "must be heard" if there was ever a follow-up review.

Roger DraperLTA chief executive Roger Draper is also awaiting the results of an internal review

The second point of interest is the panel's view of LTA high command.

"One major difficulty with the LTA is that the complexity of their organisation is such that establishing precise and clear answers proved difficult," it read, adding that lots of questions brought "confusing replies".

Again, the panel has invited the Sports Minister to take a closer look in order to "clarify the precise position the LTA took on several matters".

The conclusions of the report will come as no surprise to those who have attempted to elicit straight replies from the LTA over the years. There is often more spin out of Roehampton than a Rafa Nadal forehand.

The Westminster group accepted that "esteem for the LTA seems to be at an all-time low and, as a consequence, much of the good work of the LTA tends to be overlooked."

Hardly surprisingly this was a comment the LTA pounced upon when posting its statement of reply: "We welcome the All-Party Group's offer to help in communicating the work we do and agree that... some of the LTA's good work tends to be overlooked."

The LTA says it is happy to account for its spending at any stage and confirmed that "no public money goes into the payment of bonuses at the LTA which are determined by strict measures of performance".

The ball is now in the Sports Minister's side of the court. He may decide to take this report further and do some further digging.

Meantime, the LTA's own internal review - billed initially as "swift and decisive" by chief executive Roger Draper - enters its fourth week. As I write, all we know is that John Lloyd has resigned as Davis Cup captain.

When will LTA player director Steven Martens be reporting back and what is he going to say?

This spurious "review" must not be allowed to be filed under "C" for carpet.

There are many deep-rooted causes for British tennis failings and these need to be properly identified by those with the power to change them.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    One of the criticisms of the LTA was that for many years it was funding elitist tennis clubs. Unfotunately it was never properly answerable for the failure over decades to get players in mens and womens tennis into the top 100. Instead people tended to be criticial of the one player who achieved any measure of success, Tim Henman for his "failures".

  • Comment number 2.

    The real problem is that even if this report is correct in its conclusions, what will happen?

    1) The LTA will release a statement that it acknowledges the findings of the report and will carefully digest them.
    2) The Minister will announce he is opening up a more indepth review that will get forgotten after the election in May.
    3) Months will drag by and little will be said. The LTA will redesignate a few senior staff with new titles and call it 'restructuring'.
    4) British players will crash embarrassingly at Wimbledon and a new national outcry will occur.
    5) The LTA will release meaningless figures of how much it spends on 'grass-roots' tennis.
    6) The new Government will commission an updated review.
    7) The new report will be published without fanfare around November time, the LTA will commit to learn from its findings.

    2011

    8) GB will beat Greater East Mongolia B team at the Davis Cup in January and the LTA will talk of progress.
    9) British players will crash embarrassingly out of Wimbledon.


    Scrap the LTA. If it was a proper business in the real world it would have died a long time ago.

  • Comment number 3.

    "scrutinisation"

    Would that be "scrutiny" then?

  • Comment number 4.

    Even a cursory glance at the tennis scene in this country will reveal a middle class middle age domination. The private clubs are dominated by this demographic---how on earth can young talent reveal itself in this set up. Hasn't anybody at the LTA thought about utilising the public courts across the country for annual youth league and knock out competitions? It really isn't rocket science and I'm sure local councils would welcome some of the £60 million. Come on someone tell me why this relatively simple step can't be taken (or is it happening on such a small scale that nobody has noticed).

  • Comment number 5.

    I don't think anyone has tried to "ILLICIT" straight replies from the LTA, because that would be "ILLEGAL". I think you probably meant "ELICIT".
    Well I hope you did.

  • Comment number 6.

    "The conclusions of the report will come as no surprise to those who have attempted to illicit straight replies from the LTA over the years."

    "elicit", surely? Sorry to be so pedantic.

  • Comment number 7.

    I have been involved in tennis as a player and volunteer for over 30 years. The song from the LTA never changes. We get a Plan, less than half way through it gets dropped and all the money spent on it so far is wasted. Meanwhile, grass-roots clubs are closing because they cannot afford the cost of renewing and maintaining facilities.
    The LTA charges clubs over £9 per member in affiliation fees when it is awash with cash from the Government, sponsors and Wimbledon profits. Parents pay thousands of pounds a year in lessons, travel and equipment for their children. The LTA does virtually nothing to help clubs to develop players, then expects to take the credit if we unearth the next Fred Perry.
    There is no prospect of tennis improving in this country until the LTA is purged of the "face-fitting syndrome" which pervades the running of the sport. It should get out of its cosy Roehampton HQ and get the views and experience of those who know what the situation is on the damp and windswept courts of the real world.

  • Comment number 8.

    "The conclusions of the report will come as no surprise to those who have attempted to illicit straight replies from the LTA over the years".

    When did "elicit" become "illicit"? Is the licence-payer funding overpriced voice-recognition technology, or is the Beeb keen to dumb it down? The foregoing quote is given on the main page. Too bad.

  • Comment number 9.

    1. Isn't the first quality of Parliamentarians the ability to discern how much time and money is necessary to carry out an enquiry properly? Clearly, all money to date is wasted if such an inadequate ruffling of the surface is all that occurred.....
    2. Why was it being carried out at all if the Committee does not possess powers to induce change??
    3. Does the £6.5m from Sport England not contain specific, bounded targets?
    4. If not, WHY can specific targets not be set for the National Lottery money?? It would be easy to say that taxpayers' money (as opposed to AEC/LTA money from Wimbledon) goes e.g. only to areas of poor tennis penetration e.g. inner cities or areas needing indoor facilities to counteract inclement weather??
    5. What is the contract between the AEC and the LTA in terms of funds? Surely if things are so bad, the AEC could cancel the contract and award money to others?? Why don't they????
    6. Why is it not possible to carry out interrogation of LTA Execs in front of the cameras at HOC and state, firmly and with contempt: 'Please answer the question and stop fobbing me off, Mr XXXXX'. Suitable splashes across the media would no doubt make execs think twice before stonewalling again........calling someone a timewaster, a waster of taxpayers' money and a block to progress is legitimate MP action, if warranted.........
    7. In the modern era, there is no excuse for not setting up an extranet to solicit input from all the county associations etc. All that is needed is one mass mailing with logon and password details and input could be gathered rapidly in parallel. Please don't insult the 21st century by telling us that that is beyond MPs........particularly with the billions spent on Whitehall IT.......

    To say that our MPs are in need of as big a kick up the arse as the LTA might, in time-honoured fashion, be described as a statement of basic common sense.........

  • Comment number 10.

    I remember having a tour round Wimbledon. The tour guide was very proud to announce that to become a member there you have to be someone with stature (but not necessarily be able to play tennis it sounds like), so that the easiest way to become a member was to win Wimbledon.

    She then went on to critise Henman for not winning Wimbledon and then stated how maybe Murray could do it - bearing in mind neither got brought up through the LTA.

    Something wrong with this picture?

    Speaking to a coach the other day, I hear the problems are things like when tournaments exist, however the funding to get the kids to them always has to come from the parents, never help funded by the LTA.

    Its also a problem with the amount of sports parents like the kids to play, so if football can be played at any time during the weekend (Saturday or Sunday afternoon), then how do you set up a regular tennis slot to train?

  • Comment number 11.

    Recent top British Players are nurtured outside of the LTA - Murray, Henman and Rudeski. Clearly the LTA should embrace other coaching bodies outside of there own set-up. I saw David Lloyd interviewed and make this point most clearly. Seems so obvious?!!

  • Comment number 12.

    The problm with tennis in this country is the same as always- its a posh middle class sport. Those true fans that follow the sport outside of the two weeks in the summer are ignored by the LTA. I like many am sure nothing will change from this report. Fortunately for tennis fans Henman and Murray (the two players that the LTA have not raised) have papered over the cracks in British tennis for years only to be critised because they have failed to win Wimbledon.

  • Comment number 13.

    I watched 2 junior tournament at Roehampton this weekend.
    One was a 16s Aegon International Qualifier;the other an LTA 18s
    Indoor Series.The British boys playing in the 18s did not even have scoreboards because they were being used outside.That says it all....
    Because funding is only available from 16 and older to those boys with
    a top Tennis Europe/ITF ranking -all the top players are going to Europe every chance they can and the quality of competion has already gone downhill.Tennis Europe points no longer count in the British rankings
    as of last month but this means your son or daughter could be No. 1 18 year old in the UK and he/she would get ZERO funding.Who is going to get their kids playing all over Europe for 10-15 tournaments a year with all the flights,hotels,time off etc.?For most parents I talk to,it really is a huge financial mountain to climb....

  • Comment number 14.

    Jonathan - your correct spelling of 'elicit' (para. 15) has been misspelt in the quote from your blog in Matt Slater's article on the Tennis front page. Someone might like to correct that.

  • Comment number 15.

    No game in itself can be a middle class game. Just look at Cricket. It is probably seen as middle class in the UK but in india is is the game of the masses.

    All the LTA have to do it to build covered municiple tennis courts and subsidise grass roots tennis coaching on those courts. Hell why not pay the coaches to run free clinics providing all the relevant equipment. When I say covered I mean some kind of roof. Walls are not required. People can happily play tennis with outdoor gear on. They could be really be bold and provide some kind of lighting.

    Build a couple of these a year for the masses. Make it a game for the masses.

    That would do it. it's not complicated. Simples!

  • Comment number 16.

    It's a pity that some of the funds used for setting up the All-Party Parliamentary Review as well as a good measure of the LTA bonuses weren't diverted into help keeping the Swansea Indoor Tennis Centre open.This fine facility serving not only Swansea City but the whole tennis population of South West and a big chunk of Mid Wales, is set to close by virtue of a £50k local authority deficit(a la Slough).
    Cannot just blame the local authority,as quite frankly by their own admission, they are not very good at managing and marketing such an asset.However, the LTA/Tennis Wales are equally culpable in allowing affairs to drift into such a sorry pass and by the benign neglect of the game overall in South Wales.
    Wales,like Scotland & Ireland, has always punched above its weight in performance terms despite its lack of facilities,coaches and most of all, lack of vision/ambition emanating from Roehampton and its clone at
    Tennis Wales in Cardiff.The Swansea region has been consistently downgraded in favour of Tennis Wales using the 'private option' via Esporta as a template which clearly does not work in practice. It also singularly failed to achieve High Performance Status for South Wales and effectively turning the region into a desert and graveyard of ambition for aspiring players.Meanwhile, The Sports Council for Wales sits idly by quite happy to accept the usual blandishments as the game declines further
    At Swansea, a Steering Committee of interested users has been established to challenge the 'fait-accomplis' delivered us and forestall the inevitable, as we are literally in between a rock and a hard place, vis-a-vis the Council/Tennis Wales(LTA) given the time available ande contingency funds required.
    Nonetheless, despite the LTA, despite Tennis Wales, we are determined to keep the facility open and game alive here because should Swansea Indoor Tennis Centre close there will be no indoor public facility West of Newport, South of Wrexham.In short, it will be a disaster of epic proportions for the future of Welsh Tennis,thereafter 'Rest In Peace'...

  • Comment number 17.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 18.

    The LTA are a large, quite professional body and have their good points and their weaknesses (like many organisations.
    The large tennis budget is mainly spent on a large number of decently paid LTA employees trying to persuade an even larger number of amateur run tennis clubs, to allow tennis to develop at their facilities in the right way to encourage more juniors. Most counties have 3 or 4 full time LTA employees doing little more than administration and communication.
    Most of the amateur clubs are private members clubs which are keen to preserve court time on the off-chance their middle class members will turn up and play. These facilities are the problem not the solution. I believe all funding, direct or indirect (cheap rent, grants, loans), should be removed from Private clubs unless they prove they are investing it into their Junior programmes.
    The cost to play and compete in tennis for a Junior, unless you come from a tennis family, is prohibitive for 90% of the population.
    Sure, grass roots programmes encourage kids to pick up a racket over Wimbledon, but to fund a player to achieve top 200 status in the Country will cost a parent £2000 to £5000 per annum. Obviously a top 10 player's costs are astronomic. Players not spending at this level will drop out as they realise they can't compete with a Junior having all year round indoor tennis with individual coaching. More than half of the tennis talent is thus wasted due to money.
    I think the 'tennis' money needs to be spent on providing more directly run indoor facilities across the country which are low cost and open for identified talented athletes / players to develop regardless of how wealthy their family are.
    Then the LTA can take responsibility and nurture their talent pool rather than rely on persuading others to do the right thing.

  • Comment number 19.

    Personally, I'm more concerned with Roger Draper's excessive tax-payer funded salary for abject failure than how you spell elicit.

  • Comment number 20.

    Tennis Parent is spot on...and make that at least £10-£15K to get a talented player into the top 10

  • Comment number 21.

    At least we have the positive that this might make less people follow tennis, which is ridiculously overrated and is still too influenced by upper class/posh individuals. Instead hopefully they will watch sports like badminton and squash which are massively underrated (I may have spelt that wrong - but badminton is especially bad). More people play badminton in the UK than any other Racket sport. I'd be willing to bet that the England is much better at badminton than it is at Tennis - and the badminton players are fitter as well. But thats what happens when you get the rich/upper class snobs heavily involved in sport...not the way it should be!


    this will almost certainly get moderated and removed but I hope at least Johnathan Overand reads it!

  • Comment number 22.

    Right, as the BBC doesn't like my suggestion for what should happened to Roger Draper, I shall restate the opinion made previous, only this time censoring any mention of tennis balls and netball posts.

    "Baroness Billingham and co made it clear that they had "no powers to challenge the workings of the LTA"

    So government committees can challenge professionals like doctors, nurses, police officers, and teachers on their working practices but an organisation like the LTA, funded by public money, is somehow above any sort of governmental interference? Ye gads. Roger Draper can talk of his 10 year plan all he wants. His lack of leadership is evident by the reports Tony Hawks gives of his meetings with Draper.

    Most cricket fans can see just how there has been a revolution at club level in terms of volunteers gaining coaching qualifications and teaching youngsters about the game. The ECB isn't a perfect organisation but it has done a good job in that respect. The LTA by comparison has been a dismal failure at all levels, be they at the top level of player to the bottom level of junior coaching.

  • Comment number 23.

    Although 'class' is correctly mentioned a lot in these comments, let's not take the eye of the problem. Not enough tennis talent in the UK gets nurtured because it costs too much to play. The LTA do very little which is meaningful to improve this situation.
    This means that the talent pool is predominantly coming from more well off families. We do not want to lose this talent, we just want to add to it on the basis of talent, not just family wealth.
    I hope that people are commenting on this website because they love tennis, want it to do well and want more people to enjoy such a fantastic sport.

  • Comment number 24.

    rjaggar's comment no.5 hits the nail on the head . Why does the All England Club donate year after year many millions of pounds to the LTA when it is quite clear that the money is wasted . Could they not look for other ways , eg. private initiatives , that would produce world class players rather than blindly donating to continued failure .

  • Comment number 25.

    Over the last year I have been part of a campaighn to save the indoor Tennis centre in Slough which is due to close on March 31 (alough we are hoping for a stay of execution) .

    Slough despite under investment should have been celebrated as model of good practice , in terms of inclusive tennis development. Its users reflect the demographic of the town, it record in producing county or better players, its high level of utilisation (peak occupancy is near 80%) and it supports of a range of social and health initiatives in the town

    The lack of Indoor tennis facilities is often quoted as a reason for the failure of British Tennis I believe Slough is not the only centre at Risk. The Tennis centre in Swansea may already have been lost and other local authority facilities are at risk. Ten pin bowls and 5 a side are always likely to be more economic.

    During the campaighn I have been very dispointed by the response from the Tennis Foundation, the LTAs funding arm. The County LTA chair has in contrast been excellent

    1) The foundation have been reluctant to engage with the club and local campaign. The consultant employed by the LTA (Who we thought was working to save the centre), failed to keep the club informed and has subsequently been given a lucrative contact to run outdoor coaching in the town. It is also surgested the Tennis foundation may invest in enhanced outdoor courts in the town which will be used by this consultants coaching business to make even larger profits for personnel gains

    2) The foundation showed no understanding of the financial pressures faced by the council or the Councils need to justify investment in sport in terms of social and educational policy goals. Instead it was very quick to assume a decision had been taken and nothing could be done. It also tried to play hard ball with the council saying it would not invest in the facility unless the council jumped through several hoops. No clear simple and transparent process for making investment decisions were articulated

    3) when the club came up with an alternative proposal to save the centre, which attracted considerable interest from the Council,(the council invited the club to present its proposal to its cabinet) the tennis foundation refused to back the initiative as thier consultant/ favoured coach had not been involved in shaping the proposal.

    The Slough Centre opened in 1985 and acted as model to inspire the LTA indoor tennis initiative ITI. The ITI although not perfect, but it did provided a transparent process for partnership working with local authorities, it also targeted non traditional tennis playing areas , and promoted inclusive approaches to tennis development. It is hugely disappointing that 25 year on instead of building on these achievements, we are winessing a series of facility closures. It is doubly sad that the cost of saving these facilities could have been very low. Slough was closed becouseit was losing £30k per year, with the correct marketing and tennis development support it could easily have run at a profit

    Geoff

  • Comment number 26.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 27.

    Surely one should be focusing on workable solutions to a clearly deep-rooted problem that is in danger of destroying morale not only at the LTA but amongst volunteers and dedicated players.

    Responsibility surely primarily rests with The All England Club which has shown unstinting support for the LTA and parachuted Roger Draper in to throw energy behind a(unavoidably painful) modernisation program. Since his 1st instinct (reliably informed) was to back out of the Roehampton albatross he should be given the credit for immediate recognition of the desperate need for cultural change. That he has been predictably ensnared by a culture that refuses to change is a pointer to the need for a more radical agenda formulated by taking full account of social responsibilities emanating from:-

    1. The financial benefits of Charitable Status. If private schools have to demonstrate fulfillment of social responsibiliy to retain their Charity benefits why not Roehampton?
    2. A gross imbalance between resources at grass roots vs organisational centre.
    3. Substantial increase in the cost of junior competitive participation in significant part driven by the modernisation policies.
    4. A collapse in the volunteer infrastructure at grass-roots-a natural consequence of poor leadership in communication of vision.

    Like a failed business that is forced to lose its independence and merge with a proven successful entity it is surely time to put aside British pride and embrace the French Tennis Federation with its phenominal success at school, club and performance level.

  • Comment number 28.

    Let's hope that this first blow towards greater transparency from the LTA will not be the last - afterall this is an organisation that seems more secretive than MI5. I understand that Sport England are due to report later this year and given their financial input hopefully this will be a further move in the right direction.

    Spending £60M a year and achieving so little is nothing less than a disgrace. The last three world class Brits - Murray, Henman and Rusedski (Canadian) did not come through the LTA system and this speaks volumes.

    Our chief problem is that the sport is mired in the middle comfortable classes. This produces a stream of decent county level juniors who when push comes to shove will head for university and a nice career rather than the grind of the Futures or Challenger tour. To be successful we must broaden the junior playing base and I for one would love to see some less advantaged kids mixing it up with the posh ones. Desire and fight is lacking in our juniors who all too often mope their way through tournaments before dashing off in the air conditioned luxury of mummy's Chelsea tractor.

    Indeed for our tour level players the LTA makes their existence far too comfortable with funding at levels that mean that winning is not the be all and end all of their existence. And of course there is always Daddy's credit card to fall back on. I remember a few years ago hearing a conversation from a lower level tour player (who shall remain nameless) who seemed more intent on the shopping afforded by a trip to Portugal rather than the prospect of gaining valuable ranking points.

    I really do hope that this is just the start of a movement that will take the sport to a new level - just imagine how good it would be to have success in tennis at the same level as British Cycling - I wonder how much they spend!

  • Comment number 29.

    Until the LTA trust coaches who work with the best players at a young age to bring them through to senior level we will fail! All we seem to do is build the players for the LTA to take from us and then wait for them (the coaches/players) to fail. Why don't the LTA trust us to deliver for once?!

  • Comment number 30.

    Simply far too posh. When I played at The All England Club you couldn't get a pint behind the bar,I had to ask for two halves! It was free though!

  • Comment number 31.

    The problem with the LTA is that they arrogantly think players can be made if enough money is thrown at them. This simply isnt the case. Some players will never make it no matter what you do. Look at Bogdanovic for a prime example of that.

    You could put 50 great 14 yr old players onto tennis courts and observe them play and it would be impossible to tell which player might eventually make pro. Its not simply a case of if a player has enough coaching then he will be pro. The amount of kids ive seen throughout the years who have had lessons every day, courts in their back gardens, top hitting partners etc that do not make it is staggering. You dont hear of these kids though. All you hear about are the success stories. You dont hear about Agassi's 3 siblings who all had the same coaching as Andre and never even made the top 100.

    So what the LTA need to do is to get more kids playing. Increase the base at the bottom rather than throwing money at the top. If you have 100 good 14 year old players then the odds are still quite big that any will make it pro. If you have 2000 good 14 yr old players then its odds-on that one will make it pro. Thats the bottom line.

  • Comment number 32.

    Many interesting comments, particularly from Tennis Parent & Arnold 102... My personal view is that I think that every aspiring British tennis kid needs to AVOID the LTA's clutches. If the parents don't have the necessary funds then sadly, they might have to seriously consider cutting their losses. The LTA will NOT be your saviour! Look at Luke Bambridge. He recently won the Eddie Herr and Prince Cup U14's and then promptly headed off to the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy in France. His carers have pointed out a route for all the aspiring Brits - if they're good enough. Sure, Luke will have to pay over a percentage of all future earnings but he has rid his family of the burden of funding his tennis. Many Brits are venturing off to the US after A levels. When the time comes, we'll probably have a closer look at Germany and then the US after A levels. As for the LTA, they are great at nurturing their lack of ability; they could do a great deal worse than listen to Petchey! Any way, good luck to you, Tennis Parent and Arnold 102.

  • Comment number 33.

    Josh789 is right-the LTA will not be anyone's saviour.The biggest hindrances here are lack of indoor courts,
    (even the NTC has only 6),the weather and too few good coaches(at top level).Everything costs far too much in the UK.Courts in the park are usually in disrepair and too expensive for hours of junior practice.If you're lucky you'll live near a David Lloyd/Performance Centre.Tennis(and most sport really) in state schools is non existent for the most part(.If the government sold off the playing fields do you suppose they kept the tennis courts?)The LTA could start working on the physical infrastructure around the country.The LTA's biggest mistake in developing young players is that they support so few with so little.The ONLY way a child will get to the top is to leave the UK-earlier-if the parents can afford an academy in Spain,Germany or the USA or/and later get into a US university and play for 4 years.Any other idea is sheer fantasy

  • Comment number 34.

    The LTA does not give money to clubs - it takes a levy from each member of an affiliated club. So for clubs, the LTA is merely one more cost. As for the future of UK tennis, is really is simple, isn't it? Provide in all major towns indoor tennis centres which are available to coaches of juniors at a very low cost. We need more players, starting earlier, with access to accredited coaches. It is all about the number of players competing. In France and Sweden every small town has indoor courts. And in Spain there are clay courts in every suburb, cheap to hire. Result, player numbers and the talent rises to the top. We focus on an elite which is self selecting and too small - and so too smug.

  • Comment number 35.

    There are not deep seated problems in British tennis, it is simply not that popular and therefore we don't have the numbers playing at the grass roots to translate into top players. There are over 10 times the juniors playing tennis in France and whaddayaknow the top 100 is seeded with French players.

    As for suggesting that all we need to do is open more covered tennis courts, subsidise coaches etc, well you've got that the wrong way round. If people demand more facilities then more courts will be built. Building more lances and paying for horse riding lessons won't bring back jousting.

    Expense has got nothing to do with it either, karting is very expensive but we love our motor sport (Top Gear is our favourite TV program for chrissakes) and have consecutive champions in F1 - this despite the fact that there are a myriad of forms cars can be raced in, all competing for spectators and protagonists.

    Sorry, we don't much like tennis, we'd be better off just enjoying the sport as it is. Worrying about it this much is pointless.

  • Comment number 36.

    I can't believe that the LTA and the Tennis Foundation isn't putting most of it's energy and resources into providing temporary or permenant indoor court public facilities all over the country. This is the only way to make tennis a part of our sporting culture.
    What a beautiful, dynamic sport tennis is...it's development is being mismanaged.

  • Comment number 37.

    The LTA seem only to work with coaches/people they can control or the kind of coaches that use them for there own financial gains but never coaches who actually care about creating players or systems that will help the growth of the individual player.
    They seem to live and breed a state of fear, frightened about there own jobs,there own reputations this fear makes them almost paralysed to do anything.
    When I hear Roger Draper going on about grassroots and schools just to save his job (even though he has blatantly said he is only interested in performance) it makes me sick, ask anybody who has been involved with the tennis foundation and there ridiculous Beacon site smoke screen of ineptness and stationariness and how now British coaches are wonderful even though if I remember only 2 years ago Roger! British coaches were rubbish the best foreign coaches were what we need. A lack of fear is what we need, a ratings system that isn't psychological paralysing for juniors is what we need, an organisation that listens and helps coaches with what they need instead of just telling the coaches what they have to do is what we need.

    Someone quite high up in the old BTCA once told me that he doesn't know of one individual coach that has ever been helped by the LTA to produce a tennis programme and I am now starting to believe it maybe, If this is true what is £60 million spent on a year.

    Please have your enquiry don't sweep this one under the carpet and ask coaches what the LTA are doing in schools and grass roots, ask them about the ridiculous amount of paperwork they are asked to supply just so they can justify there own existance, ask them all what the LTA has done for them and find the coaches to ask who aren't directly employed by the LTA and you might just find another bit of british greed and wastefulness but this time in Tennis.

  • Comment number 38.

    I have 2 juniors who play county tennis, one 8 the other 12. Tennis takes a lot of money to reach the top - you need 10,000 hours of expensive coaching as a junior. Believe me there is almost no one without the money to fund the first few years who makes it to the top in tennis anywhere in the world - this issue is not unique to the UK. Tennis is also time consuming for training (say 10 - 12 hours a week in primary school) and the pull of football (and cheapness of football) takes many potential tennis players out of the sport. I don't think that's going to change much either.
    In infrastructure, the key issue is that the UK has nowhere near enough cheap indoor courts. In my area the councils regularly refuse planning permission for them. My town of 120,000 has NO indoor courts, not even expensive private clubs. My kids play in rain and wear gloves in winter when it is close to freezing. That kind of thing puts a few kids off too. You can go to most towns in Belgium with 15,000 inhabitants and find a complex of ten or more public indoor courts.
    However, Britain has a pretty reasonable record of delivering world class juniors up to 12 in age. Our problem is the conversion of great teenage players to great senior players. The crux of this problem is that teenage tennis in the UK is not competitive enough to drive excellence. France, Spain and the USA have great weather and great training centres that attract the best juniors in the world who play each other day in day out in training and push each other on. It is not enough to play the best occasionally in tournaments - these guys have very intensive training sessions all the time where they play each other for points in drills; and they hate to lose at anything. They develop a winning mentality and a desperation to succeed. Do the best juniors in Russia and Sweden and elsewhere dream of coming to the training centres in Britain? Of course not; they are in Spain or the USA. That's why Murray and Henman both succeeded outside the normal LTA path. Of course the LTA is hardly going to develop a plan based on sending our best juniors to other countries to learn tennis are they?
    I've seen most of the upcoming juniors playing and I do not see anyone making it in the Mens for some years. In the womens I reckon we have much more potential with several who can be top fifty and maybe one in Laura Robson who could be top ten. The girls mature much faster and so the lack of competition in the teenage years in the UK is actually less of an issue because that period is so much shorter than for the boys, who after years of mediocre competition in their teens are fully prepared to heroically lose in the first round of Wimbledon.

  • Comment number 39.

    It doesn't take a genius to know what the problem with British tennis is - the lack of grass root funding of tennis courts to establish a reliable framework to identify and support children at an early age.

    I am frankly astonished at the state of the courts (and more specifically the lack of indoor courts) in the UK and the sport is unfortunately becoming increasingly more elitist.

    For example, the public indoor tennis facility in Slough (which is being used by all age groups and has a diverse ethnic membership) is being closed down and replaced with a tenpin bowling alley. The reason - it is losing a modest amount each year but this is simply down to mismanagement. Is the LTA stepping in to save the indoor courts by providing additional funding...what do you think?

    I have now joined another indoor centre which is privately run and is significantly more expensive. Guess what - not a kid in sight just old, rich upper class members.

    The LTA need to realise that you need to have indoor courts throughout the UK to generate interest and have tennis as a viable option compared to football, cricket etc. There is no point plowing money into specific centres (eg Bisham Abbey) as the catchment of talent will inevitably be limited.

  • Comment number 40.

    I think that you will find that most of the worlds top tennis players come from a middle to upper class background and whose parents could afford to fund their tennis careers. The lucky few who have received scholarships to attend tennis academies fulltime, and who have made it, are few and far between. Tennis is an elitist and expensive sport. If you look at the grafters on the challeger and futures circuits you will see that it is a tough road to haul. Rightly so, the LTA cannot fund all these players. What the LTA can do is make the sport more accessible by heavily subsidising all tennis clothing, equipment, court hire, coaches, and competition fees. But, that is only a small part of it. The LTA also need to recognise the efforts of all the (good) tournament staff, tennis lovers and parents who together make everything happen. ATM much of what happens in junior tennis is inspite of the LTA. This is why I think some of the contributors point to the fact that the next top Brit will not be a product of the LTA.

  • Comment number 41.

    Can some one tell me what the thinking behind the tennis foundations funding policy is, as they only support new courts,flood lights and pavilions but not indoor courts. This is left to the LTA who then have there vehicle to put tennis providers via loans into good old DEBT which as we all know gives power and control to the lender.
    Also is Roehampton the LTA headquarters built on the Bank of England site? The more I think about it the more the Banks and the LTA have the same stategy and look at the mess they are both in.

  • Comment number 42.

    One more question can anyone tell me if the LTA actually spent £30 million on Roehampton and now own it or is it just leased?

  • Comment number 43.

    RenataTomanovaFan [8] wrote:

    'When did "elicit" become "illicit"? Is the licence-payer funding overpriced voice-recognition technology, or is the Beeb keen to dumb it down?'

    -------------------

    You've got a cheek to talk Renata.

    Forgotten your prediction post for the WTA Miami, when you misspelled "Kim Clijsters" as "Venus Williams"?

    PS - DRAPER OUT.

  • Comment number 44.

    For me, and I speak as someone brought up in the 60/70's era of communal tennis, you can build all the courts you like and provide all the equipment too, but if the kids don't know or want to try tennis out, then those courts will remain empty and profitless.

    Tennis has to be debunked, declassed and to a certain extent, deprivatised.
    It has to be advertised and made more attractive to kids, with information of where to get free lessons and the use of equipment and where to go to play.
    In community centres, recreational centres and schools, there has to be a systematic matrix of communication that allows kids to understand the mechanics of club tennis and competition and how to get there and what they need to do.

    If you take football as an example, you have the model on which to build a structure for kids to get into tennis with.

    It (youth football) has been built upon over decades of use, but, there is no reason why the LTA and other tennis bodies cannot do as much to get the kids to play. Let them try it out, they will never know if they like tennis until they get on a court and hit a few balls about, then they will have a chance to progress and advance, but the information and mechanism for getting kids into clubs from parks or schools and then into centres of excellence has to be in place before that happens.

    From there, funding and individual sponsorship can be looked into, based on merit, and then decisions can be made by the parents and junior players as to what they need for touring in Europe on the tours.

    Everything seems to be done backwards, wait for the talent to arrive and then give them money to become a pro, but that system only creams off the talent that arrived on the back of private funds. Therefore, you cut out the raw talent or any young hopeful who might be the next Federer.

    it is this attitude that is suffocating British Tennis IMO.

  • Comment number 45.

    i would blame the lta for british tennis being a very poor relative of other sports in the country.
    tennis is fairly dismal at catching on to being attractive to the masses.
    it's main role seems to be giving late middle aged largely unenterprising people the reins to en masse suffocate a sport through hanging around committees for years on end achieving stagnation and very dull , uncool set ups in the suburbs.
    until the lta understand that committees need to be replaced by a constitution plus elected motivated leader for 2 or 3 years at a time then we will never be what we should/could be.
    the lta should have produced a document which is called "running tennis clubs properly" to help this occur.

  • Comment number 46.

    Here are a few facts for the less informed posters. The LTA has no power over County LTAs or tennis as a whole. There are only around 50,000 competitive players in GB compared to say France with 1 million. The average tennis club in GB costs around £100 for annual membership making it actually one of the cheapest to play. However the LTA have squandered money in manner not based on any evidence, purely the whim of Roger Draper, their strategy is not evidence based. Most high level current staff were brought in by Roger at inflated salaries, many cronies of his from sport england. Stuart Smith, the LTA president, gave Roger a 5 year contract on a six figure sum in his last few weeks in office. Current staff as less qualified 'tennis' wise than at any point in the LTAs history. LTA funds are being spent at will by some management without any accountability or scrutiny. Rogers revolution has moved tennis on for the better in many respects but at the expense of all adult tennis and all grassroots tennis in a very much top down approach putting all the eggs in Andy Murrays basket. Something needs to give, and with Roger well protected in his bunker by aforementioned corporate cronies tennis' only hope is the parliamentary committee, good luck and god speed baronness!

  • Comment number 47.

    Another weekend out hitting tennis balls in dodgy weather.
    I'm a coach with some good juniors who I can see just drifting away from tennis because they can't get the continuity that it needs to maximise their potentials....
    My kids, who are gifted at tennis and competitive, surprise, surprise... are also good at any other sport they get involved with... so... here is some breaking news: it rains here... its the windiest country in europe... (which is why we have so many windfarms-NOT!) and they are expected to get out there and 'put in a good show, what." ... so, they end up going out and kicking a football around, or playing tentindo INDOORS etc... so would I, I suppose,
    Tally-ho chaps.

  • Comment number 48.

    Bad weather, not enough indoor courts,poorly maintained public courts,poorly funded performance clubs and almost no tennis in state schools and universities all add up to BIG obstacles in getting tennis to wider audience and to a higher level of excellence nationwide.The pathway to a professional career just does not exist here exccept for a small handful of players and if they stay here they are merely big fish in a small pond.The LTA is so top heavy with management-how many suits went as the Davis Cup entourage?25 or so,I think...A fresh start is needed......Kids are competive and when sports are on offer and coaching and faciities available,there is participation...whether it is boxing,tennis,rugby,track and field etc..We have taken so many playing fields away and have allowed sport to be sidelined in so many schools.Our great sporting heritage has been diminished
    and our kids are the poorer for it...

  • Comment number 49.

    I don't know how the LTA get away with it. They do waste tax payers money, The LTA drew down money for supposedly providing tennis coaching for my son to enable him to meet his true potential through the AASe scheme. The coach left because he lost part of his earnings as the LTA removed his key player to Roehampton. Instead of empoying a similar national standard coach they spent the money on administration staff. It was like a primary school teacher trying to teach physics on a graduate course. I complained to the LTA and subsquently government ministers but they failed to act. My son had to go elsewhere for his tennis but he was still bullied in to finishing his NVQ paper work so the LTA got their money for services they refused to provide. Fortunately the Americian collegate system treats them much better. If nothing else the LTA need to work on working within these values: respect for children, young people and parents; fairness and that young talented tennis players are people not commodities.
    The LTA are too powerful. The government won't critisce the LTA didn't Draper come from Sport England?

  • Comment number 50.

    Your previous & this are good article Jonathan, quite hard hitting & you clearly pointed out the total failure of the LTA over a number of years, not just recently. An interesting letter by Baroness Billingham to the Sports Minister, but will he act. I agree that John Lloyd should not have been made a scapegoat of the Davis Cup failures & Andy should not necessarily play in the minor division. The failure of our Davis Cup is solely due to the LTA, not finding young talent, inadequate coaching, bringing in the talent & Roger Draper in particular, who promised success. The CEO leader should be the first expensive scalp at over £500,000 year, 1% of the budget, to go. There should be a route & branch massive reorganisation, cutting the non-tennis staff dramatically, putting the tennis people (possibly Henman, Radeski, Wade, etc) in charge. You brought up some important points, about the obvious massive autocratic power these "jobs for the boys people" have, with people appear to be frightened of them, with their royal patronage. As you astutely point out, how do you execute this plan, tricky one, they don't appear to report to anyone & can do as they please, carry on with this very lucrative "gravy train". As you pointed out, there may be a case for the government Sports Minister stepping in, on the premise of wasting tax payers money & damaging a critical British sport, tennis. One good question the minister should ask - "what is the total wages & administrative cost for running the LTA, as a percentage of the budget".
    There are some good coaches in this country, but are not organised properly by the LTA. They largely get no funding from the
    LTA & have to mainly rely on personal coaching, which does not necessarily include looking out for raw talent, as most of the
    coaches belong to tennis clubs. Very little work is done on "grass roots" tennis, in schools & local parks. where probably most of this talent may be found.
    Tom Hawks famously pioneered "Tennis For Free" in the UK & produced a workable Business Plan, which he presented to Draper, LTA, with the backing of the Sports Minister. Draper initially showed enthusiasm & promised to take some action before & at the 2008 Wimbledon. Hawks followed this up with persistent calling of Draper, but was ignored, resulted in the infamous meeting between Hawks & Draper, who angrily told Hawks to get out of his office immediately. Do we need these sort of people running our tennis, we think not. Someone above wrote, scrap the LTA, that may be the best idea, but who is going to do it.

  • Comment number 51.

    I really do hope that the Minister will announce he is opening up a more indepth review that will get forgotten after the election in May....
    google tricks

 

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