LTA turns to 'cheaper' Michael Downey as new head

 

Given the frequent criticisms that the Lawn Tennis Association can be too lavish with its money, perhaps it was appropriate that the governing body followed the Bank of England's example in naming a Canadian to direct its future operations. For Mark Carney, who took over as Governor at Threadneedle Street in the summer, read Michael Downey, who will start work as chief executive of the LTA in January.

Downey, aged 56, will replace Roger Draper, who leaves at the end of this month after more than seven controversial years in charge. Much of the criticism of Draper's regime surrounded the LTA's spending and, in particular, the chief executive's own remuneration, a large bonus having taken his £425,000 basic salary to £640,000 last year. At the same time, the LTA was widely criticised for the falling numbers of people playing the sport.

Draper's successor, who has been president and chief executive of Tennis Canada for the last nine years, will have to survive on a comparatively modest £300,000 a year, which could rise to £390,000 with bonuses. David Gregson, the LTA's independent chairman, stressed at Downey's unveiling at Roehampton that the new man's pay would be in line with that paid to chief executives of comparable organisations.

Gregson said more than 350 people had applied for the post and 30 had been interviewed, but Downey had been the unanimous choice and was the only person offered the job.

Downey, who comes from a business background, has been given much of the credit for turning around the fortunes of Canadian tennis. Led by Milos Raonic, the world No 11, Canada's men equalled their best ever result in the Davis Cup by reaching this year's semi-finals, while Filip Peliwo and Eugenie Bouchard won the boys' and girls' singles titles respectively at Wimbledon last summer.

Just as crucially as far as the LTA is concerned, Downey has presided over a substantial growth in participation. About 1.2 million Canadians (out of a population of 35 million) play tennis regularly, which is an increase of some 30 per cent since Downey took charge. At the end of last year Sport England criticised the LTA after it was revealed only 445,000 people in England (of a population of 53 million) play tennis regularly, a fall of 10 per cent since 2008.

Downey believes that encouraging more children to play the sport through mini tennis schemes is crucial. "If you attract children early they are more likely to stay in tennis," he said.

He said it was "humbling" to have been offered the job. "We know what tennis means to this great country of Britain, which is the cradle of tennis," he said. "This sport has far more importance in Britain than it has in Canada."

Downey said he would welcome the opportunity to discuss British tennis with Andy Murray but added: "Murray's biggest contribution to tennis in Britain is winning. That's when people want to write about tennis, when people want to follow tennis, when people want to pick up their rackets and play."

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