Youth to reap benefits from profits

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The Independent Online


Among the customary millions bandied about by the Lawn Association yesterday - a record-equalling pounds 27.9m profit from the Wimbledon Championships having contributed to an income of pounds 42m - one million in particular gave cause for optimism. It is the number of school children who can look forward to coaching over the next five years.

Pursuing its goal, "to transform the perception of tennis as an elitist, middle-class sport", the LTA announced a pounds 25m community tennis programme to provide opportunities for people of all ages. Having invested substantially since the mid-Eighties in creating indoor tennis centres and generally improving amenities, the governing body recognises the need to populate the game: the more who play, the greater the prospect of raising standards.

The 38 county associations will be given the means to establish a projected 450 community tennis clubs, and the LTA will double its national schools training programme to reach teachers in more than 2,500 schools. The pounds 5m per year drive to ensure wider participation in the sport begins in January with the recruitment of county development officers, and an emphasis will be placed on clubs giving priority to juniors on one of their courts.

"Our objective," Ian Peacock, the LTA's chief executive, said "is to create a partnership with clubs, schools and local authorities that can breathe new life into the sport at grass roots level and provide the depth of talent we need to secure its future."

The Prime Minister, who in July called for competitive sport to be put back at the heart of school life, commended the LTA's initiative, writing to say that "the new strategy mirrors many of the aims of [the Government's] 'Raising the Game' ".

Wimbledon's continued prosperity enables the LTA to plough money into the sport. This year's championships yielded the same profit, pounds 27.9, as last year's. A repeat of the 70 per cent increase on a record pounds 16.40m in 1993 would seem an impressive way to remain static.

The profits are not affected by the All England Club's massive rebuilding project, the first phase of which, a new No 1 Court, is due to be completed next year. Funds to meet the capital expenditure are raised by the sale of debenture seats.

The Wimbledon profit amounts to two-thirds of the LTA's total income for the year, pounds 42m, which is pounds 400,000 down on 1994.

In January, international and professional tennis in Britain began to be organised separately as one of three new divisions within the LTA, and it was announced that David Lloyd was to take over as the captain of a humiliated Davis Cup team.

Since then there have been signs of improvement, at least in the men's game. The Canadian-born Greg Rusedski arrived with a Union Jack to help lift home spirits at Wimbledon, and Tim Henman returned after injury to become the new national champion and has joined Rusedski in the world's top 100. In addition, there has been sequence of encouraging international results among the junior boys.