Neil Harman writes in The Times (21/09/09) of the LTA, Mediocrity in leadership, mediocrity in playing strength, mediocrity in coaching, the first murmurs of a grassroots uprising. Such is the disturbing landscape that confronts British tennisAndy Murray confirms this assessment with the withering conclusion; We are where we deserve to be Harman continues, How is it that, with such largesse at their disposal year upon year from Wimbledon's unparalleled success, Britain's (tennis) decline appears unstoppable. This is the key question. Many sports governing bodies in this country are performing poorly, including the one that I am most familiar with, but none have the resources at their disposal that are available to the LTA. So what is going wrong with British tennis? I suspect Harman chose his term correctly when he reiterated the word mediocrity.From my experience, sports governing bodies are largely made up of well meaning, kindly people who are mostly well beyond their sell by date. What they are not is ruthless managers of business, and whether we like it or not, sport is a business and if you want to survive, let alone succeed at any sort of international level, then ruthlessness and single-mindedness bordering on obsession, is the order of the day. For professional sports, money is probably the main driver for the administrators. Rest assured that Alex Ferguson, for all his professed love of the game, will not retire in penury. But what, in the absence of big bucks, drives the amateur administrator: the love of the sport, the thrill of the chase or in the case of our army of aging sports administrators, simply the habit of a lifetime? And how do you tell a kindly old soul who has devoted thousands of voluntary hours to their sport that they are no longer needed and that their best is simply not good enough. This becomes especially difficult if the said person or persons have made faltering steps in the right direction. This I suspect is the case with the LTA. We know the LTA has established a nation-wide youth development programme and we know these programmes can take years, even decades to mature. But the brutal fact is, that no matter how well intentioned many of our governing bodies may be, the international opposition are that much more serious. For many countries, sporting success is a matter of national pride and advancement, and Britain, in its post imperial dotage, just doesn't have that same hunger. We neither have the resources to compete with the giants like China and the USA nor the national drive to compete with the newly independent nations like Croatia. As that all too familiar clich goes, we can talk the talk but we can't walk the walk. There are some notable exceptions, cycling being one of them. But the LTA has shown none of the centralising obsession of their two wheeled compatriots. They just seem to muddle on in the hope that their well meaning development programme will produce a champion sooner or later. That approach will not suffice because it is simply mediocre.Of course, when dealing with the painful topic of sporting success, more profound questions need to be asked. Is, for example, international success the only type of success worth aspiring to? I would argue no. Take the unfortunate case of English table tennis. With Ping Pong still the national sport in China, the chances of British international success in this sport is virtually nil. Nothing is impossible of course as the Swedes proved in the 1990's with Waldner, as did our own Desmond Douglas, who reached the dizzying heights of World Number 7. But those wonderful success stories are proving to be very much the exceptions. The table tennis base in this country is simply not large enough to produce at the international level. But table tennis can play an altogether different role in the nation's sporting fortunes. Due to its economy of space and its ease of participation, table tennis is well positioned to play a leading role in the battle against obesity and other health related problems. Imagine five million Britons regularly taking their daily exercise on the table tennis table having walked or cycled to the venue. Now that is what I would call a sporting success worth shouting about. And who could not but be impressed with the annual Great North Run which attracts thousands of participants whose only goal is to complete and to enjoy. Perhaps it is time to totally redefine the meaning of sport and in this, Britain, who once invented or at least codified many of the world's games, could once again be a world leader. 2012 would be the perfect launch pad for such a new movement but one suspects we are still far too preoccupied with business of winning medals for UK Plc.End JPK 12/10/09

Last Updated ( Monday, 28 May 2018 15:53 )