Demand for tennis has increased as lockdown measures have decreased – GETTY IMAGES
Outdoor tennis bookings have surged by 250 per cent as lockdown eases, according to the chief executive of the LTA, which is pleading with Government to now reopen indoor courts.
Appearing before MPs, Scott Lloyd suggested the sport had weathered Covid-19 comparatively better than other sports in the short term, with Wimbledon due an insurance payout after it was cancelled due to the pandemic.
However, in written evidence to the committee, the LTA said “further specific support may be needed… in particular, if public health restrictions and consumer confidence mean stadia are not able to return to full spectator capacity within the next year.
“That will have severe financial implications for the LTA, and tennis,” the letter says. “An immediate priority is to secure the reopening of indoor tennis venues as soon as possible, together with cafes, bars and other facilities that help provide tennis clubs with revenue.”
Two thirds of LTA funding are dependent on Wimbledon revenue, but Lloyd said he understood the All England Club’s decision to axe it this summer, given the headache around international players that needed to fly in.
Lloyd said the governing body’s major priorities remained in giving inner city youngsters better access to courts as the Covid-19 crisis eases. He told the Commons’ Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee that there remain 96 locations across the UK “whereby there is not an indoor tennis court within 15 to 20 minutes”. Explaining his efforts to diversify the sport, he spoke of going into community centres, youth clubs and mosques to encourage participation. He said it was “extremely disappointing” that indoor courts will remain closed from July 4, when the nation takes another major step towards the return to normal life.
Outdoor tennis participation has been surging in recent weeks, he explained. “Initial data sources would imply that our bookings through our online systems are up by 250 per cent so that’s great news, albeit I would stress that we are talking about outdoor tennis,” he told MPs. “One of the things we are particularly focused on and disappointed by is the fact that we are not going to be able to resume indoor tennis from the 4th of July like many other activities or leisure pursuits.”
Overall, “further long-term investment into sporting facilities is needed”, the LTA’s written evidence to the committee says. “The Government’s manifesto commitment to £550million for grassroots sporting facilities through the Football Foundation was very welcome, and needs to be delivered to benefit all sports over the next decade,” it adds. “The LTA had been anticipating investing £125million over the next decade in new indoor facilities, but some of this funding has been deployed to support the wider tennis community through Covid-19, so more funding and support from Government will be needed.”