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A THORNY ISSUE: Time to raise the game

Andi Thornhill

A THORNY ISSUE: Time to raise the game

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WITH THE road tennis revolution in top gear, the Professional Road Tennis Association should consider setting up a circuit that will put money in the pockets of players on a monthly basis.

The time is ripe for this move and they should strike with the hammer now the iron is hot.

You just have to look at the phenomenal support the sport has been getting from the masses when tournaments of this nature have been played.

Monarchs Of The Court and The Massy Insurance Clash Of The Titans have been runaway successes and the principals in the PRTA can draw strength and enthusiasm from these two models and proceed accordingly.

Road tennis’ moment has arrived after decades of striving for recognition as an indigenous sport and those who organise it should continue to look at ways to broaden its base and capitalise on its growing mass appeal for the benefit of all stakeholders.

At present only cricket and horse racing are organised in such a way for people to be paid for their talent and worth. Football has the same potential but needs the kind of infrastructural change and good governance the current administration is trying to implement.

From my own observations, the PRTA has the administrative and organisational capacity to make professionalism possible in their sport as well. When I speak of professionalism, I’m not speaking only about monetary reward, I’m also referencing to the attitude and deportment of the players.

I think we have seen a huge difference in approach by players since the PRTA came on the scene. They have taken the sport more seriously, they practise much harder and they’re more focused and intense on court. The simple reason for this transformation is that there are tangible rewards for excellent work.

When you add this to the natural passion for the sport, you get a player who can assist in taking the game to another level and through his exploits win more fans and converts for road tennis.

I mean, you just have to look at the interest Antoine Daniel has created on the circuit with his flamboyant and entertaining displays. Here’s a master, who put down his racquet for 15 years and the moment he returned, there’s something different about the feel and the reverence and respect road tennis has received in the past six months.

While he has played the leading role in the sport’s theatre of dreams, others like Mark “Venom” Griffith and Julian “Michael Jackson” White have been superb in supporting roles.

My drift is that once you have star quality, it creates an immediate marketing and selling point for fans and potential investors.

I am certain that those businesses who have given support to the ventures of the PRTA must be very satisfied with the exposure given to their various products and services. There is branding at the venues and unprecedented media coverage of road tennis, not to mention the word-of-mouth component which speaks highly of the world-class exchanges and encourages the curious to join the thousands who come out to watch the matches.

Against this background, I think more businesses can get involved and partner with the PRTA in what will be a win-win situation for all. The monthly circuit which I have proposed won’t work without corporate support.

I know it’s our mentality to give things time and see how they work before committing to them fully but I feel this is an instance where a sporting organisation has proven it can get the job done in an efficient manner and one that pleases all stakeholders.

I note that Coverley has been identified as the main home of tournaments run by the PRTA and this move provides subliminal marketing to a housing development which hasn’t always been spoken about in positive terms and has been a political football.

Here again, if playing at Coverly can enhance the vision the PRTA has for the further development of road tennis I won’t oppose it. However, given the positive feedback from the tournaments they have organised, I know there could be requests from residents of similar developments to bring the sport to their neighbourhoods. Therefore, exclusivity might put them in a quandary.

The question arises, too, if what they are doing will overshadow or wipe out the programmes of the Barbados Road Tennis Association (BRTA).

I don’t see why it should because as the umbrella body for the sport, the BRTA must concentrate on developing players, continue to work closely with the National Sports Council in having more schools participate in tournaments at the primary and secondary levels.

Road tennis, after all, is ours and has holistic values.

I think the other crucial role for the BRTA to serve is to help keep road tennis in the communities where it was conceived and which were stomping grounds over the years. The tree could never grow in the first place without roots.

In fact, the NSC’s islandwide tournament is mindful of this and we get the chance to see the emergence of new talent. Some of them will develop and graduate to the ranks of the invitational competitions under the PRTA flag.

Yes, we are ready for the professionalisation of road tennis based on current feedback from its huge following and the intent shown by members from the island’s corporate community.

• Andi Thornhill is an experienced,award-winning sports journalist. Email:[email protected]