LTA promises huge cash boost to get people playing tennis again


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The Independent Online

The Lawn Tennis Association is backing up its determination to get more people playing the sport more often with hard cash. In an attempt to reverse a significant decline in the numbers of people who play tennis in Britain, the governing body plans to increase its spending on participation by more than 50 per cent from £17m last year to £26m by 2018.

Michael Downey, who took over as the LTA's chief executive 15 months ago, yesterday revealed the organisation's strategy for the next four years. He said that the blueprint for the LTA under his predecessor, Roger Draper, had been focused on trying to improve the country's elite players, whereas his plans were based on participation.

"The fundamental problem that we face is that our sport is declining," Downey said at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton. "That is a fact that a lot of people have trouble accepting."

Six years ago nearly a million people in Britain played tennis at least once a month and 530,000 played weekly. The most recent figures show that those figures have dropped to 694,000 and 384,000 respectively, with the biggest decline in the 16-25 age group. Downey believes that tennis has lost out in particular to what he calls "doorstep sports", such as cycling, swimming and running, which do not usually require the booking of facilities or organising fellow players.

The focus of the LTA's increased spending will be on tennis in parks, which is seen as the biggest area for potential growth, on helping the country's 2,600 clubs to attract young players and on marketing the sport.

It is anticipated that the extra £9m will come from £5m of new revenue, much of it from sponsors, as well as savings of £2m in the LTA's high performance programme, which is being streamlined, and £2m in efficiency measures.