The news is all the more disturbing if only because not too long ago the Association hosted an annual International tennis Federation (ITF) Junior tournament and once hosted a leg of the renowned Davis Cup. St Vincent and the Grenadines also held the presidency of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Tennis Association.
It is would otherwise seem difficult to understand the current state of the sport at the leadership level. However there is an urgent need to engage in some analysis to glen precisely how the organisation has come to this point.
There was a time when Tennis had the Kingstown Tennis Court near the cemetery, the courts on Murray Road (now the Haddon Courts) and the court at the Grand View hotel as its main facilities. Some time later, when the Tennis fraternity sought to host a major regional tournament the four courts at Arnos Vale were constructed. When the latter courts were completed they were considered the very best in the country.
Tennis had the privilege of having the courts at the Arnos Vale Sports Complex completely refurbished some years ago at a relatively high cost as is the norm with these facilities.
Then the National Lottery, now the National Lotteries Authority (NLA), constructed the new courts at what is referred to as The Triangle, near the Kingstown Preparatory School in Kingstown. Needless to say that while this was done the Haddon Courts deteriorated virtually to the point of near-closure with the surroundings overrun by shrubs and the courts themselves interspersed with tufts of grass. Little attention was at the same time paid to the Kingstown Tennis court despite repeated appeals. Even though this latter facility was repaved at some time it was never really given the attention it deserves and that remains a bone of contention amongst its several users.
Hotels in the Grenadines have constructed Tennis courts as well. Successive governments have also constructed several hard courts and many have been lit under an arrangement between the National Lotteries Authority and the St Vincent and the Grenadines Electricity Services – VINLEC.
Some years ago Tennis had a sudden dose of good fortune. The head of the Taiwanese Embassy in St Vincent and the Grenadines was an avid fan and player of the game. He encouraged its development and entered into an agreement with the government of St Vincent and the Grenadines to construct an international Tennis Facility with four courts.
The Tennis fraternity approached the government for land located in the vicinity of the St Vincent Community College in Villa. The Mitchell administration agreed to a lease valued at $1 per year.
Under the close supervision of the Taiwanese the National Tennis Centre was constructed with four courts. Some years later the Tennis Association sought and procured an Americas Zone Group 4 Davis Cup competition and an addition two courts were added at the Centre to satisfy the requirements of the International Tennis Federation (ITF) at the time.
Tennis therefore became one of the few Vincentian sports bodies that had a facility that it could=genuinely refer to as its home, not just for the playing of the game but also serve as the official headquarters of the governing body, the Tennis Association. This should have set the stage for a major developmental thrust in the sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
In a very real sense we could conclude that as far as facilities are concerned there is really no shortage. This should therefore have been good reason or the Tennis fraternity to easily spread its reach across the nation.
While there are numerous hard courts spread several excuses have been proffered as to why they are not being used to introduce and foster the sport around the country. The sport has remained essentially in the area between Kingstown and Villa.
For many years former players undertook the coaching of Tennis. Because the sport was initially almost exclusive to the whites who were later joined by the emerging black middle and upper middle classes, participants in the sport were willing to pay for their own tuition and that of their children.
As Tennis facilities increased and the leadership of the sport in the country changed the sport eventually opened up to the less lower middle and lower classes in Vincentian society, the majority of whom are black.
Individual players sought to develop themselves as coaches as they neared the end of their careers. Coaching certification was at the time a matter of individual ambition.
When the National Olympic Committee gained membership status with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) it accessed the Olympic Solidarity-sponsored technical courses for its own members and Tennis was one of the first to benefit from the training and certification of coaches at home under ITF Instructors. This has led to a significant number of Tennis coaches being developed.
The ITF also facilitated the development of the sport by establishing a structure that introduced a Development Officer for the sport at the continental level initially then eventually reaching down to the Caribbean level. The intention was to facilitate a more systematic approach to the development of Tennis in the region.
One would therefore have hoped that given the existence of many facilities including an official home for the governing body and the sport itself and the consistent access to coaches’ development programmes right at home, there would have been a burgeoning of the sport across St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Unfortunately, the trained coaches have stayed within the confines of what they perceive as the premier Tennis facilities hardly venturing out.
Admittedly there was a period when the sport was taken across the country and more particularly in the nation’s schools. This was under a specific programme where the ITF provided funding and equipment to introduce Mini Tennis, where the children were taught the fundamentals of the sport. At the conclusion of each season the kids were brought together in a friendly competition that featured awards that served as incentives to sustained interest and their continued participation.
Nigel Liverpool ran the programme and for a brief period hundreds of children were playing the game and showing much interest. Unfortunately there was no medium to long term planning and the programme petered out of existence once the ITF funding and provision of equipment dried up.
There are many Tennis coaches currently involve din coaching. Many have their own classes that leave each involved in a profession of sorts. However there is no mechanism in place to evaluate the various classes or the coaches involved in them. There is no mechanism to determine when the caches require re-tooling.
Currently there is no involvement of the Tennis Association in the Grassroots Talent Identification Programme (GTIP) of the NOC as none of the caches seem interested in holding such sessions outside of the two aforementioned areas of concentration.
The NOC’s granting of a four-month programme aimed at developing a national structure for Tennis fell through the cracks as the international expert informed the ITF and the NOC of his inability to get the desired cooperation. Some of the coaches have offered their side of the story in respect of the performance of the international expert’s approach. However wrongs on both sides as well as an unwillingness to sit and address the critical issues left the opportunity for the programme to be abruptly closed one month short of its scheduled date and a colossal waste of much-needed resources.
Several years ago there was a steady flow of local competitions in which the Tennis Association was involved. There was an active Junior Development programme that saw youngsters being encouraged to compete regularly for the honing of their skills and an evaluation of the growth and development in the sport. Much of this has gone out the window.
There has been a reduction in the number of tournaments at the junior level in which this country participates annually.
Competition is always an integral component of the development of any sport. The significant decline in competitions in Tennis therefore creates innumerable problems for the Association in virtually all areas.
The latest news is that the Executive feels that the membership is not fully supportive of its work and therefore called a General Meeting to hold elections. At the meeting a quorum was not present.
The Executive, convinced that it cannot continue with the leadership given the lack of support is seeking an exit strategy that would facilitate the transformation that many seem to want. The problem now is that no one seems anxious to come forward to take on the mantle of leadership. There is therefore a stalemate in the sport of Tennis.
It is therefore imperative that those who are genuinely committed to the development of the sport of Tennis come forward, lay their cards on the table and agree to the pertinent compromises that would facilitate the emergence of a new executive that can attempt to bring all the stakeholders together for the development of the sport going forward. In the absence of such a move the sport of Tennis will become merely recreational and little else.