POSTED: November 8th 2010

'Conveyor belt' policy means Murray will not be courting Wimbledon alone

The young master: Andy Murray in triumph after last month's victory in Shanghai /
The young master: Andy Murray in triumph after last month's victory in Shanghai /

KEIR RADNEDGE / Sports Features Communications

LONDON: Wimbledon is, like it or not, the tennis extravaganza which defines – for much of the home nation – the state of the domestic sport. That may be unfair but it also a perception which LTA ceo Roger Draper has sought to change since he arrived four years ago from Sport England . . . as he told, in the second part of an extended exclusive interview.

How does it feel to have outsiders assess your performance in the role on what happens over just two weeks every June and July?

If you read the Daily Mail the other week 2010 was the worst Wimbledon ever but we had four semi-finalists – we had Andy Murray in the men’s singles, Laura Robson in the girls’ singles and both boys’ doubles finalists – so actually tennis is a healthy vibrant place.

More people are playing tennis week-in week-out than are playing rugby union, cricket and rugby league combined. Yet still people judge it on whether we have won Wimbledon.

In this country it’s black or white. People say Tim Henman never won Wimbledon yet he got to No4 in the world and probably overperformed in terms of what he had – but that’s just sport. One week Andy Murray is rubbish, the next he’s wining a grand slam. This year Federer is down and out and Nadal’s knees have gone and he’s never going to win another title.

You have to keep your head above all of those issues. Sport is big profile in today’s 24/7, all-crisis environment.

In truth myself and the rest of the team are very excited because we think we have not only got winners coming through but are also growing as a sport. In fact, a big part of my job is on local projects, getting more people playing tennis.

How are you managing that?

We’ve done three things. Hopefully never again will I see the LTA have one Andy Murray or one Tim Henman, we’ll have a conveyor belt of players coming through, though that will take time. Then we’ve overhauled our commercial programme and started to address a big part of our strategy which is getting more people playing around the schools and the parks.

We’ve always had a strong club structure but now we’re the fastest growing sport in terms of school/club links. Some 80pc of primary schools now offer tennis.

One of our challenges in tennis is perception. People say tennis is expensive. Well, on average it costs £2.50 each week for an adult to play tennis. People say tennis is white and middle class. Well, actually, it’s not. We have to dispel these myths. Tennis is one of our big sports and will continue to grow.

Was there anything which surprised when you took over at the LTA?

It needed a lot of change in terms of corporate governance but what has surprised me most – and this applies to a lot of sports - is that they aren’t really focused on the sports themselves. It was who is on this committee rather than why aren’t we getting more people playing sport, why aren’t we getting more women playing sport and how are we going to get better facilities?

So one of the things we’ve done is focused on the sport because unless you do that you can have the best files and paperwork and corporate governance but that won’t win out on the court.

One of the challenges for sports bodies is they think the people out there are there to serve them whereas actually when you run sport you are there to serve the people - so the experience of a player or a coach or a volunteer is what is most important.

The way you get more people involved in sport is give them a good experience. If you have good facilities and good coaches and good programmes you can’t go far wrong. That why one of our challenges is planning because we need more indoor courts and we need planners to be a bit more sympathetic.

Talking of good facilities: what does putting on the Centre Court roof at Wimbledon demonstrate?

This year it was the most expensive sunshade imaginable. But that won’t always be the case, of course! One thing Wimbledon does so well is modernise and change but nobody really notices. When you are one of the best sporting events in the world you want to keep it as that and you have to invest in the facilities.

Sport is quite easy on events because the two most important groups of people are the players and the fans and if the players are happy and the fans are happy then it’s win/win.

Can you really stage Olympic tennis at Wimbledon . . . just three weeks after the end of The Championships?


* Roger Draper is one of the high-profile sports leaders supporting the Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust’s innovative new programme Champion Voice. This has been developed in partnership with the Central Council of Physical Recreation (CCPR) and executive search firm Odgers Berndtson.

The aim is to help provide retiring sports stars with the relevant experience and skills to be utilised by sports’ national governing bodies and other sporting organisations at strategic levels. Since November 2009, 14 Olympic, Paralympic and world class athletes have participated in the programme and have now been appointed to roles across sport.

Keywords · Draper · Lawn Tennis Association · LTA · Wimbledon · Murray

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