A THORNY ISSUE: Disunity not good for road tennis
AM I the only one who believes that there seems to be an unnecessary turf battle over road tennis?
Or am I delusional, a solitary figure at the edge of a cliff and about to fall over?
I just can’t seem to understand why all of a sudden there appears to be this great division among some stakeholders when we have reached the point where we should be united in making our indigenous sport truly international.
The sport has come a long way since its origins in the 1920s when it was reported that ordinary, working class men and boys didn’t have the status to play lawn tennis and were forced to find an alternative.
Road tennis was that alternative and through the years it is a medium that has produced world- class talent although it never got the recognition it deserved because of misguided and distasteful social perceptions.
Thanks to the perseverance of its founding fathers and loyal supporters, it has gradually lost most of the negative stigma that was placed on it to a point now where road tennis is now rivalling mass sports like football and motor racing for popularity.
You just can’t keep road tennis out of the news. Thousands converge at the various competitions and there’s barely standing room. The media have been forced to take more notice because the sport has evolved at such a frenetic pace in the past decade, that it would be wrong if it didn’t get its due on the sports pages or via electronic media.
Back in the day when I covered the sport, there were hundreds taking in the action but those numbers now seem small compared to what obtains currently.
Numbers translate into power and are the truest benchmark for measuring popular support for any endeavour of any size.
Lest we forget, too, there were times when the players competed for very small purses or just trophies. Nowadays there are tangible paydays for the top players.
Oh, and whereas major tournaments were played in communities like Bush Hall and Deacons, some organisers believe that the sport’s image has outgrown its original home and nursery and you can witness competition in an upscale neighbourhood like Coverley.
am not saying this in a discriminatory way but it helps to emphasise the point that road tennis has made tremendous strides in recent times.
In my opinion, it has reached the crossroads in a very positive form. There are many options to take it to the next level and we should be proud that we have the people with vision and the expertise to elevate it to the highest point.
Former administrators from the Barbados Road Tennis Association, in conjunction with the National Sports Council, exposed the sport to international audiences with road trips to places like London, Kentucky, China, Cuba and a few English-speaking Caribbean countries.
A former champion, Sylvan “Lama” Barnett, always reflects fondly and enthusiastically about his exhibition game with Britain’s Andy Murray, now the number two tennis player in the world.
To his everlasting credit, Dale Clarke came along and has focused on the business side of the sport. It has brought financial benefits to a wide cross section of the road tennis fraternity. We need entrepreneurs with the spirit and passion like Clarke to achieve greater brand recognition and professionalism in the sport.
He has been able also to entice a regional media entity to partner with his concept and this has resulted in greater exposure for road tennis. Television drives the interest like no other media. It brings the action right into your home and possibly broadens the net to millions more around the world. So Clarke and his associates are on the right track.
Minister of Sport Stephen Lashley can also take a bow for playing a key role in giving greater credence and recognition to the sport. None of his predecessors can claim to have made similar attempts during their tenure.
The recent seminar to familiarise other countries about the culture of road tennis, its regulations and so on was a boss move as it is his intention to stage a world championship here next year.
There were two similar tournaments at the turn of the century staged at the Springer Memorial School but they didn’t showcase many players from outside of Barbados. The minister’s concept is intended to embrace a much larger and diverse field.
In essence, all of the developments I have traced indicate that we should be on the same page going forward and it shouldn’t appear as though our courses are different and there are bragging rights to be gained by some for new initiatives on any side of the court.
We have to be singing from the same hymn sheet if we are to make the kind of statement that would make the rest of the world take notice of something that is uniquely Bajan.
In fact, isn’t it more pertinent at this stage for us to be trying to secure a patent for road tennis before someone else does and disinherits us of our birthright?
• Andi Thornhill is an experienced sports journalist and media consultant. Email [email protected]