User:Liam Kelly/Tennis in Australia- Where has it gone wrong? A look at the Downfalls of Australia’s once most successful sport and an eye to the future

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Tennis in Australia- Where has it gone wrong? A look at the Downfalls of Australia’s once most successful sport and an eye to the future Tennis in Australia has been an institution for over a hundred years now with the popularity of the sport; then known as Lawn Tennis originating from the British Influence. Since these early beginnings the game of Tennis has gained remarkably in popularity throughout the country to the point at which Australia now hosts one of only four grand slam tournaments in the world. Over the past decade though, it has become noticeable that the effectiveness of Australian Tennis has declined with the output of elite professional players in both men’s and women’s world class competitions. Also severe destabilisation has occurred in the administration of the game with controversial appointments along with infighting which has severely damaged the once thriving administration model. This article will look at a history of the once successful breeding ground for elite players that was Australian Tennis and look at both the governance issues that have managed to affect the effectiveness of the game, both on and off the court. A focus on the business element of Tennis Australia’s (TA) functions will also be made, looking as to how Tennis Australia is now a big business organisation and what role the Australian open plays in the profitability of the TA brand.

Here is a link to my presentation:http://www.archive.org/details/bps2011

Introduction[edit]

Since word of a new game known as lawn tennis made it through to Australia in the late 1800’s, the nation has fallen in love with the sport, to the point where it has become a staple of the Australian culture. This love for the game has most definitely transferred to the success of so many Australian players throughout the years, with many of the games greats including Margaret Court and Rod Laver coming from our own ‘backyard’. Although in recent years the amount of ‘world-class’ talent being produced by Australia is severely declining to the point where in recent years Australia has had a singular men’s player in the top 100 professional players of the world, in comparison to the French who have consistently had six or more men in the Top 100 at any single time over the last few years. Statistics show that tennis is still in the top 10 for sport and recreation in terms of participation rates so the question must be asked, where are the elite tennis players? This article aims to uncover the reasons as to why the high rate of participation in the game does not equate to elite talent, along with looking at the current administrative structure and uncovering what has faltered of this once incredibly effective model. Also an insight into the business that is tennis in Australia will be highlighted, looking at how the sport has become a part of the professional sporting landscape.

File:Rod Laver.jpeg
Australian Legend Rod Laver

History of Tennis in Australia[edit]

Although an exact date is unknown, it is believed that tennis first came to Australia in the early to mid 1800’s, with the game then known as lawn tennis gaining popularity off the fact that many British were taking up the sport back in the homeland and word quickly spread to the colony of Australia and from then on the game took off. The first recorded tournament of tennis in Australia happened in 1880 at Melbourne Cricket Club Courts. The first form of governance of tennis in Australia was formed in 1904 and was known as the Australasian Lawn Tennis Association (ALTA), the following year the first national competition was created, known as the Australasian Men’s Championships, a historic occasion as this event would be later known as The Australian Open. The first national women’s competition of this kind was formed in 1922, marking an important step in tennis in Australia. As popularity of the sport grew, so did the talents of our national players, and by the 1960’s Australia had some of the most talented group of individuals to ever compete in world tennis. Legends of the game such as Ken Rosewall, Rod Laver, John Newcombe and Margaret Court were all dominant players of the 1960’s winning the Australian, French and U.S Open’s along with dominating the ever prestigious Wimbledon Championships. Since the glory days of the 1960’s and early 1970’s Australian tennis has competed admirably on the world stage, producing a constant flow of talent who could match it with the world’s best, most recently these players include Pat Rafter, Mark Philippoussis, Lleyton Hewitt and Australia’s most recent Grand Slam winner, Sam Stosur. At a participation level, tennis has always been a popular sport for all age groups, with many children playing in competitions and undertaking coaching and many adults and even elderly persons taking up the game at a social level. With its ability to encompass participation by all age groups and gender, tennis has been etched into the fabric of Australian sporting culture.

Decline in the elite Australian Tennis Players Competing on the world stage[edit]

In recent years it has become apparent that there is a severely lacking amount of Australian players competing on the world stage in the WTA tournaments. Whilst there is still a small group of players consistently performing well such as Sam Stosur and Lleyton Hewitt there is not enough depth coming from the junior ranks to support them. So the question must be asked, why are Australian players faltering? This debate has been raised over the last year or two by many of the Australian tennis’ most influential figures and came to a dramatic climax after ABC’s Four Corners (http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/special_eds/20100301/tennis/) investigated the obvious disharmony in both the development area of Tennis Australia and the political issues that were happening in the administration at the time of the investigation. These political issues that have troubled TA will be raised further into the article. Four Corners found that there was a “my way or the highway” style of approach by TA and its development programs, with talented players being forced rather than encouraged to move to the Australian Institute of Sport to train and play with other talented players and be coached by several experts of the game rather than just one. Scholarships were offered by TA for players who would uproot their lives and move to Canberra to train where as those who chose not to move were not given the opportunity of monetary help even though they had the same, and at times more chance of succeeding at an elite level. This clear inequality in development ranks must not be tolerated simply because a player is hesitant to leave home and a coach who they were accustomed and programmed to. It is essential for all prospective junior talent to be nurtured and embraced by TA so that they are given every opportunity to succeed as the more players that are challenging the world’s best, the better state the game will be in Australia. Recent Participation figures show that Tennis is in a healthy state in terms of participation, with it being in front of soccer for gross number of participants. (http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Latestproducts/4177.0Main%20Features52009-10?opendocument&tabname=Summary&prodno=4177.0&issue=2009-10&num=&view=) What needs to be taken into account when interpreting these figures, is that they do not highlight the different demographics that participate in the sport and recreation activities listed. As tennis is very accessible to adults and the elderly as it can be played at a less physically demanding rate than a sport such as soccer, this could well explain why the figures show a higher rate of participants than sports like soccer. This then highlights and obvious need for TA offer tennis in a larger capacity to children in a younger capacity than what it currently is, such as offering school clinics for children to try tennis and hopefully pursue the game in a larger capacity from then on.

File:Pat Cash.jpeg
Pat Cash has been strongly against the current Player Development Structure

Tennis Australia Political Issues[edit]

Tennis Australia has usually had a harmonious and relatively uncontroversial administration, with the former President of TA, Geoff Pollard having a 20 year reign of the position until last years retirement. As spoken about previously, a Four Corners investigation which aired on March 1 2010 uncovered a story of backroom deals and various conflicts of interest involving TA officials. The first political issue which was uncovered was the November 2009 vote at the Annual General Meeting to elect a President for the following year, where Geoff Pollard the incumbent at the time was being challenged for the first time in several years by former player Paul McNamee who had support from several former and current players. It was found that various voting members such as Tennis Victoria and Tennis Western Australia were warned off voting for Paul McNamee, firstly by John Newcombe who previously went to school Geoff Pollard, and more extraordinarily by Russell Caplan the Chairman of the Melbourne Olympic Parks Trust (MOPT) (http://www.mopt.com.au/desktopdefault.aspx/tabid-1/) who warned Tennis Victoria that a vote for McNamee could severely jeopardise the proposed multi million redevelopment (http://www.mopt.com.au/desktopdefault.aspx/tabid-36/46_read-21/) of Melbourne Park. It can be noted that Geoff Pollard was also a member of the MOPT. This represents clear back room tactics and conflicts of interest coming into play with a pending election, and as this comes to light the integrity of not only the individuals involved in the election, but the whole administration of TA is jeopardised. Another issue explored was the appointment of Todd Woodbridge as the TA Head of Men’s Tennis and Davis Cup Coach. The fact that Woodbridge had many side projects such as commentating during the Australian Open and a spokesperson for a car company means that there is the worry with so many other commitments, Woodbridge would not be able to complete the requirements of his job to his highest capacity. Especially during the Australian Open when each day during the tournament he is contracted to Channel Seven, as this makes him less accessible to the male Australian players competing in the tournament, which his role as head of men’s tennis dictates he should be.

The Business of Tennis[edit]

Tennis Australia has gradually transformed from a primarily volunteer based association to a multimillion dollar professional sporting association with Revenue just below $160,000,000 for the 2010-11 financial year. This figure represents how huge the Tennis Industry is in Australia and also how important the roles of Tennis Australia are in developing the game throughout the country. The organisation has nine business units under the President Steve Healy and CEO Steve Wood, those units being, Commercial, Tennis, Communications, Human Resources, Legal and Melbourne Park Redevelopment, Finance and Administration, Marketing and Information Technology. These nine business units are represented by currently 201 staff along with various casual employees, mainly in the tennis area. TA has various commercial agreements which bring in much needed revenue, most notably ‘Optus’ and ‘Wilson’ along with government sponsorships from the Australian Sports Commission and the Australian Paralympic Commission. These sponsorship agreements help fund the various activities that the business units of TA undertake. According to the 2010-11 Annual Report (http://issuu.com/tennisaustralia/docs/ta2010-2011annualreport?mode=window&backgroundColor=%23222222), around 38% of all revenue made by TA came directly from ticket sales and another 24% from TV rights, both these sources of revenue directly relate to the Australian Open as the TV rights deal is mostly involved in broadcasting the tournament. This highlights how important the Australian Open is to the running of organisation as it is the showcase event of Tennis in Australia and reflects on how well the TA organisation is run. Not only does the Australian Open reflect the TA organisation and act as a major revenue raiser, it also acts as a major driver of participation rates for the upcoming year in community and junior tennis.

Conclusion[edit]

This paper shows that more flexibility must be shown to both talented players and their coaches, as for some players feedback can be best given by one distinctive individual who have a unified goal rather than several coaches giving different feedback. Also an increased level of tennis programs to primary aged school children must be given to ensure that they are at least given the opportunity to enjoy and pursue the game of tennis. As for the political issues that have happened in the TA ranks, clear conflicts of interest such as Todd Woodbridge’s situation must be rectified because if you choose to take up a high importance job such as his, you must be committed for the full year, not miss two of the most important weeks of the year because of another lucrative contractual agreement. This paper also gave an insight into the importance of the Australian Open and commercial sponsorships to the business side of TA, and if political factors come to light such as they did on March 1 2010, commercial sponsorships and the integrity of the organisation can come into jeopardy.

References[edit]