Cost of court hire puts people off tennis

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The Independent Online

As Britain embarks on its annual two weeks of Wimbledon watching, the chances of getting people off their couches and on to the courts afterwards are being hampered by local authorities overcharging for tennis facilities, it was claimed yesterday.

As Britain embarks on its annual two weeks of Wimbledon watching, the chances of getting people off their couches and on to the courts afterwards are being hampered by local authorities overcharging for tennis facilities, it was claimed yesterday.

Both the young and old - not to mention putative successors to Tim Henman when Britain's number one finally hangs up his racquet - are being discouraged by some councils levying fees of up to £11.30 an hour.

But many other local authorities offer their courts for free, according to the survey by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. The report follows long-standing criticisms that some authorities are neglecting or closing courts and that a lack of public tennis facilities was behind Britain's failure to produce more world-class players.

The survey was published yesterday to coincide with the opening day of the tournament in London SW19, which saw one rising British star, Alex Bogdanovic, aged just 20 and ranked 290th in the world, make his Wimbledon debut on Centre Court, only to be thrashed by reigning champion Roger Federer, 6-3,6-3, 6-0.

Today will see the return of Henmania when the British number five seed begins his campaign to meet Federer in the final. He is due to play Spain's Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo, ranked 83rd in the world, at the start of what is expected to be his best chance of taking the title, although the heavy rain forecast for today might intervene.

The chartered society says local authorities are putting off budding Bogdanovics and Henmans by their charging policies. It says the spotlight on tennis over the next two weeks should be used to encourage more people to exercise.

Selby in North Yorkshire tops the league of fees in England and Wales at £11.40 an hour, followed by the Corporation of London (£10.50), Greenwich (£9.95), Slough (£9.50) and Stratford-on-Avon (£8). Local authorities in Watford, Wansbeck in Northumberland and Three Rivers in Hertfordshire do not charge, while the cost is just £1 an hour in North Norfolk and Rochdale.

Phil Gray, chief executive of the society, said: "It's appalling that, in some parts of the country, people have to pay more than 10 times as much to hire a tennis court than those in neighbouring regions. Local authorities should prioritise access to sports facilities if they are to play their part in addressing obesity and enhancing public health. The cost of hiring courts means that some people will miss out on the opportunity to get some much-needed exercise. Those responsible for fixing tennis court prices may think that local amenities are a good way of generating revenue but, in fact, they are discouraging many people from becoming physically active.

"Pricing people out of participating in sport will do nothing to tackle the UK's growing obesity crisis and will put extra financial pressure on an already overstretched health service."

The Lawn Tennis Association said it was committed to developing tennis at all levels and establishing affordable facilities in inner-city locations and deprived areas. A spokesman added: "We welcome further moves that will help make the sport more accessible to people from all backgrounds."

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