Inside Lines: Where Wimbledon's grass isn't greener

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The Independent Online

Anyone for Tennis? Plenty of takers on the All England Club's manicured lawns this fortnight. But what about the real Wimbledon, the suburb in London SW19 where people live, work and play? Play, did we say? Well, perhaps they would if they could, but downtown, away from the Pimm's and C'mon Tims, it is hardly a case of Tennis for Anyone. True, there are 20 public courts at Wimbledon Park next to the members-only International Club where the game's great-and-good practise and play. Interestingly, these have under-gone a timely tarting-up since their shabby state was exposed by the ITV programme Sporting Scandals earlier this year, with locals complaining that only one of those torn, potholed courts was actually playable. But the real scandal remains. Wimbledon Park is up on Snob Hill, where the stars rent homes during the tournament. Like the Wimbledon crowds, users are predominantly middle-class. There is nothing elsewhere for the kids from the other side of the net where a future champion is more likely to be be unearthed. Merton Borough Council, who are responsible for the upkeep of local sports facilities, failed to mention courts other than those at Wimbledon Park when we enquired of their whereabouts last week. Now we know why. We discovered a scruffy one at Dundonald Park, close to the inappropriately named Fairlawn Road, which was barely habitable, and three at Holland Park which lay derelict, unweeded, unkempt and uncared for. They don't seem to have seen a service for years. Local campaigners say the neglect is disgraceful. More so is the fact that at last year's London mini-Games for kids, Merton, which houses the home of tennis, was unable to enter a team.

Will Cassani call 'out' over Olympic tennis?

We doubt that Barbara Cassani, London's Olympic bid leaderene, found time to nose around Wimbledon's neglected tennis areas when she called in on The Championships last week. Pity, because she claims that upgrading facilities for youngsters on the back of the Games will be a priority. But will the All England Club play ball for 2012? Cassani has to assess whether Wimbledon is a viable venue for the Olympic tennis. Although the ivy-walled emporium would be the cream on the Olympic strawberry for some IOC members the AELTC seem to be pricing themselves out of it. It is likely to cost £13m to stage the tournament (which the organisers would pay) and they are demanding a hefty bung. Such are their riches, they could afford a little patriotic altruism. Sports minister Richard Caborn, no great fan of Wimbledon - he is running a 10km race in Saddleworth instead of doing Centre Court duty with boss Tessa Jowell next weekend - would prefer a legacy-leaving arena in east London. So would BOA chief Simon Clegg. Advantage Wimbledon? More like "Out!"

No chain reaction as another joker goes wild

There used to be a time when comedians were joke-tellers rather than the butt of them. But Windsor Castle's uninvited guest Aaron Barschak (who sounds more like a Wimbledon qualifier than a comic) wasn't the only funny man making a spectacle of himself last week. Tony Hawkes, a tennis nut who has appeared on Whose Line Is It Anyway? has been chaining himself to the railings around some of those public tennis courts in Merton and elsewhere in south-west London in a campaign to make them free of charge for use by youngsters. We applaud the cause but doubt the effect on cash-strapped councils who are spending less on sport because of decreased Lottery funding. That's no joke.

Like her mother - and the sports minister - the Princess Royal is no great Wimbledon aficionado, so no doubt she will welcome the excuse to be in Prague this week in her role as one of Britain's three IOC members. It is also a timely opportunity for her to give the London bid a leg-up.

Hers will surely be one of the ballot papers marked in favour of Vancouver when the venue for the 2010 Winter Games is decided on Wednesday. The vote is secret, but it is no secret that HRH and fellow Brits Craig Reedie and Matthew Pinsent will opt for the Canadian favourites as this would virtually eliminate potential rivals New York and Toronto from the 2012 race. Traditionally the IOC do not award Games to the same continent in an Olympic cycle. Similarly, should Austrian candidate Salzburg win it could be goodnight Vienna, so to speak, for any European Summer Games bid, including London's. Our suspicion is that the third runner, South Korea's Pyeongchang, might sneak it, for all sorts of political reasons, leaving 2012 intriguingly wide open.

Unlike the Jockey Club, who snootily seem to think dope testing beneath them, Wimbledon are now playing the game with UK Sport's specimen-collectors.

So far no positives, and the good news for those who might prefer to carry a flask of coffee on court rather than sip the isotonic stuff is that caffeine is about to come off the banned list. This was confirmed at a meeting of 45 sports bodies in Birmingham, organised by UK Sport, to discuss the finer points of the World Anti-Doping Code. Less positive is that funding problems - Britain's under-threat anti-drugs unit is still awaiting the £1.4m increase promised by the Government - may necessitate a reduction in numbers tested for EPO, the current fad substance, in the coming Olympic year.

insidelines@independent.co.uk

Exit Lines

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