Roger Draper today insisted he remains the right man to lead British tennis despite this week’s worrying participation figures and continued struggles on the world stage.
Sport England have cut their funding of tennis by £530,000 after their Active People survey showed the number of adults playing at least once a week dropped to 375,800 – a decline of almost 30% in two years.
During that period the Lawn Tennis Association put more than £40million into participation alone, making the figures particularly embarrassing.
The performance side continues to struggle, with Andy Murray the only British man in the world’s top 150, and there are no guarantees the current crop of promising teenagers will manage the breakthrough that has eluded so many of their predecessors.
Indeed, the senior men have clearly gone backwards since Draper took over in 2006, with the number of British players in the top 300 having dropped from nine to four.
The funding cut itself will not have much impact given the LTA’s budget for 2011 was £69.5million, while Sport England will still give the sport £24.5million over four years, but they were certainly headlines chief executive Draper could have done without.
Six years into the job, his many critics say he has simply not achieved enough with the huge resources available, but he again called for patience and insisted there are positive signs.
“I actually do think there’s progress being made,” he said. “The women’s rankings have improved, our junior performances have improved. We’re six years into a 10-year programme.
“I was talking to Hugh Morris (managing director of England cricket) the other week. Eight years ago he was the worst performance director, David Sparkes was the worst chief executive in swimming 10 years ago and swimming is now perceived to be doing pretty well in performance terms.
“It takes time to build a platform, to get things right. Tennis is a brutal sport. I can’t put Oli Golding, Kyle Edmund, Luke Bambridge, Eleanor Dean in a time machine. We do think we’ve got a bunch of players who are very much on track.”
LTA president Peter Bretherton was quick to defend Draper, stressing in rather convoluted terms that the board are behind their man.
He said: “The board has a strategy, we know what the strategy is. The putting into practice of that strategy is part of the strategy and the board is satisfied with the strategy and the way it’s being put into effect. Until the board decides otherwise, that’s where we are.”
The LTA have no quibbles with the Sport England participation figures, although they argue away from the specific criteria measured by the survey there has been improvement.
Draper said: “Participation is quite a complex area. You can go in riddles on figures. We had a good spike a couple of years ago and now we’ve come down.
“All the sports have said to Sport England, ‘How can we collectively work through this?’. We’re not the only sport.
“We know junior participation is going the other way. All sports have challenges with adult participation because of lifestyle changes, people working more etc.”
Bretherton insisted reversing the decline in adult participation would be a major focus for the LTA.
He added of the figures: “It is a cause for concern but we’ve got to get it in perspective. By our measures we are seeing some increases, in registered places to play, membership, and those are encouraging.
“From the first day, I said participation was my priority, and it still is and it will be going forward. There’s no quick fix.”R Soft Web Hosting