In 2003 the LTA published a mission statement setting out their goal of doubling the number of British players in the world’s top 100. At this time only two players were in the top 100 and so it did not seem too much of a challenge. Seven years later, rather than increasing British talent, the number of players has actually declined. Even Andy Murray, the world number three, cannot be deemed a home-grown success as he trained in Spain as a junior.
So what is the contributing factor to this lack of home-grown talent? It certainly is not lack of funding as Britain has substantial investment in the sport compared to most countries. The majority of grant funding is derived from Central government and allocated to British Tennis through the successful partnership with Sport England. In addition to this there is also LTA loan and grant funding available in the sum of £27 million. Tennis also generates £25 million from Wimbledon and £30 million from Aegon (as part of a five-year sponsorship deal).
If money is not the issue, is there an argument for lack of talent? Not only potential players but coaching staff as well. However, research into the game has said that British players are hugely talented but just don’t have the desire to become as good as they can be. These under-performing players are being funded continually by the ATP, flying around different countries usually to come home having fallen at the first hurdle.
With the numbers of British talent in decline how are the LTA going to increase the number of tennis players moving through the ranks? There is a commitment to Sport England that the number of people playing tennis once a week will increase by 150,000 by 2013. If they are to achieve this target, investment in the right projects, supported by the right people is key.
The LTA has suffered heavy criticism for failing to transform the cash into talent. The All-Party Parliamentary Tennis Group has recently spent three weeks gathering evidence to investigate the reasons as to why the LTA has not succeeded in its mission statement:
“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 said.
“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.
“It is crucial that grassroots tennis, whether involving very young players or others, that hitherto had no access to the sport, ought to be at the top of the LTA’s priorities.”
Within the report, there was also suggestions that public funding was being used to fund LTA staff bonuses. The LTA has vigorously denied this allegation:
“No public money goes into the payment of bonuses at the LTA, which are determined by strict measures of performance, and overseen by a remuneration committee of the LTA Main Board, including a non-executive member of the Board.”
There is a risk that the LTA will lose their funding if they fail to deliver. The former Sports Minister, Gerry Sutcliffe expressed this view when he threatened to reduce the grant given by Sport England unless there was some improvement:
“I’m getting tired of the excuses, we need to find a way to be successful now” he said. “If the results don’t come, reducing the money is something that has to be looked at,” Mr Sutcliffe said.