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A THORNY ISSUE: Lil Man off the road

ANDI THORNHILL, [email protected]

A THORNY ISSUE: Lil Man off the road

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THE Professional Road Tennis Association’s (PRTA) tournaments this year will not have the same venom without the presence of Antoine “Lil Man” Daniel.

It was Daniel’s presence and flamboyant play that were the biggest factors in bringing out the crowds in all of the competitions last year. From Silver Hill to Spring Garden to Coverley, he was the talk of the town.

After taking more than a ten-year break from the sport, Daniel’s second coming was extraordinary, considering the length of time he was out of competition.

There was no apparent rust as he glittered like gold, lighting up the courts with an attacking style that was laced with its own uniqueness and brought joy to the thousands who followed him around in the various tournaments.

Daniel had rock star status, reaching a level of mass popularity never attained by any road tennis player in the history of the game in Barbados.

Although there have been other icons like Anthony “Limp” Richardson, Anthony “Tiny” Jordan, Deighton “Pa” Roach, Julian “Michael Jackson” White and others, none drew more interest nor increased the fan base for the island’s indigenous sport like Daniel did.

In fact, I think he and his management team missed a marketing opportunity by not at least putting out a Lil Man T-shirt or polo shirt at the height of his popularity last year. I am sure he would have benefited financially had he done some merchandising.

The business side of this movement cannot be taken lightly and it is up to the players to take themselves seriously in the process.

This is actually the crux of the matter that has to be a main component of the conversation if road tennis is being pushed as a professional sport. If there’s a dedicated series of tournaments with full sponsorship, all the stakeholders should benefit.

We need not see it as a matter of greed on the part of the organisers or the players because people must be rewarded according to what they have put into a venture.

I gather that Daniel’s beef with the PRTA is a request to be paid an appearance fee in addition to any prize money won. I honestly think it is a fair request if there are gate receipts.

Appearance fees are the norm in professional sports. It is just that Daniel’s request would come as a culture shock because we are not at that level of thinking in respect of the development of sports.

I think what he did, therefore, must have taken the PRTA by surprise because this might have been the first time they had to deal with something of that nature. Apparently, the response triggered the row and Daniel, well within his rights, decided not to compete in any of their tournaments this year.

Of course, the fallout may have escalated based on how the issue was handled by both sides.

I have the utmost respect for what PRTA president Dale Clarke has done so far and is continuing to do to change the image of road tennis. Indeed, I don’t think it is far-fetched to say he has moved expeditiously to elevate the self-esteem of the average road tennis player from the days of his Racquets On Fire Series.

He is definitely a pioneer in this regard, and when the sport goes global his vision will be appreciated more than it is now. He is on the right track and there can be no pause, no turning back, but he must also be mindful that without the players there is no product to market.

An Antoine Daniel is the epitome of the brand that will make the world take notice of what a marvellous sport we have created.

This is not to say either that Daniel, or any other player of his ability, should attempt to hold the PRTA or any other body promoting road tennis to ransom, because no individual is bigger than any sport, but I think where there’s a legitimate claim, it can be negotiated amicably.

Obviously, Daniel seems to be fighting this battle alone and probably won’t win it or cause the PRTA to even wink, if he doesn’t have the support of the other prominent players, but I think the two parties need each other more than they might care to admit publicly.

My advice is to set ego aside, find some middle ground, because arguably the best player and definitely the biggest drawing card in road tennis should be competing in the most high-profile tournaments.

Andi Thornhill is an experienced, award-winning sports journalist.