Funding axe threat a headache for tennis

Echo: Champ — Andy Murray won the men’s singles crown at Wimbledon this summer but the LTA faces losing Sport England funding Champ — Andy Murray won the men’s singles crown at Wimbledon this summer but the LTA faces losing Sport England funding

SOUTH Essex tennis stalwart Ian Pitt fears the worst for the sport’s funding in the new year.

Sport England has already cut the funding it gives to the Lawn Tennis Association but faces being cut adrift altogether in 2014.

The Government agency slashed its grant to the LTA from £24.5million to £7.1m in 2012 after the association failed to produce a credible plan to increase participation.

And a recently-published Sport England survey claims that the amount of people playing tennis has dropped in the last year from 406,000 to 445,000.

Sport England chiefs will announce in January whether the agency will continue its funding as LTA bosses try to make a case for keeping the grants.

“I do not think it will go well in January. I do not see any reason why Sport England should change their position,” said Pitt, who lives in Wescliff and organises tennis tournaments for Essex County LTA.

“Most of the clubs are losing members and we are not sure if they are leaving the sport or going to play at centres such as David Lloyd.

“Some of the centres are very expensive but people can just play and then have a drink without having to worry about the running of a club.

“It’s also difficult to get volunteers to help at club level. It’s not such a problem at the larger clubs but it is quite a problem at smaller ones.

“And the financial climate is certainly not helping because people cannot necessarily afford to play and it will always be the first thing that they have to cut when budgeting.”

The LTA has already axed funding to British doubles players as a result of the grant cuts and while it may be a financial necessity, Pitt believes it might be counter-productive.

“To do that with the doubles when we have three players in the top 500 is ludicrous,” said Pitt.

“Dan Evans is 150th in the world and James Ward 161 but they have cut their funding and we need to have them as a pair for the Davis Cup. Andy Murray cannot play three because of his back and we need another established pair.

“The ladies is different because we only have Laura Robson in the top 100.”

Pitt, who runs junior tennis tournaments around the county for Essex LTA with his wife Lesley, says there is plenty of demand at grassroots level for tennis.

He said the events he runs are oversubscribed and youngsters have to be turned away because there is not enough court capacity for them to participate.

But he believes the changes within the management structure offer hope for the sport and, in turn, its funding have a brighter future.

New LTA chairman David Gregson and commercial manager Simon Long are already in place and former Tennis Canada chief executive Michael Downey is due to replace Roger Draper as chief executive officer next month.

“Downey did well in Canada and improved the situation considerable in Canada, and hopefully he can do the same here,” Pitt added.

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