Kaieteur News – Watching the enthralling final in the US Women Open evoked comparisons with the quality of tennis in the USA and Guyana. It also aroused reflection on the state of the game in Guyana.
It is not unexpected that the two finalists would come from countries where the structure of tennis is developed. Both Canada and the United States have well-structured and managed amateur and professional circuits.
Tennis is played at a high standard in the developed world. Even at the level of schools; there are top class coaches and most important of all some of the best courts in the world.
Guyana has lagged behind the Caribbean when it comes to the organisation and management of the game. And in terms of facilities, there has been a woeful neglect of this area of the sport.
It is therefore understandable why Guyana is not likely in the near future to produce the next Leylah and Emma. But the present state of the game of Guyana does not mean it has to remain that way.
Locally, the game is referred to as “lawn tennis” even though there are more hard courts than grass courts in Guyana. Guyana’s grass courts could have been developed to make them become the Wimbledon of the Caribbean. Instead, they are fast giving way to concrete and asphalt.
Tennis was traditionally seen as a bourgeois game, played primarily by the country’s elite. It was viewed as a game for the rich and famous, including those with some talent and those with pretensions to talent.
Tennis was perceived by the masses as a rich-folks sport even though the children of upper lower class and lower middle-class athletes did play the sport. Lawn tennis had also big-shot stigma in the same way that football was seen as a lower-class game.
But this has not remained so. With the attainment of Independence much of the class barriers came crashing down, as so too it would appear the development of the game.
However, the past always stays around to haunt the present and the future. The continued perception of lawn tennis as a sport associated with the economic elite has remained.
Despite the advent of television and a generation of Guyana witnessing the game of television, local tennis still carries its traditional stigma. But with more and more working-class individuals playing the sport that embedded perception can change and with it perhaps, Guyana can develop more facilities to encourage more persons to participate in tennis.
The lack of proper facilities has long been identified as hindering the sports development. In the past, tennis courts were limited to the sugar estates and private clubs which were either restricted in their membership, or to which the poor people lacked easy access.
During the colonial era, the child of a poor sugar worker could not gain access to the concrete courts on the sugar estates. And other clubs where access was better were not bound to attract many poor people in the same way as the cricket clubs.
Despite this Guyana has produced some decent lawn tennis players many of whom were not from the upper classes. Ian McDonald, Kayume Naj and Kean Gibson were among the best players we ever produced. Ian MacDonald played at Wimbledon and was a member of the West Indies Davis Cup team. But Guyana has never produced any world-class players.
At present, the class barrier has been shattered in local tennis. But what has remained is the lack of adequate and suitable facilities for playing tennis.
Facilities for lawn tennis are limited. Lawn tennis used to also be played on the perimeter of some cricket grounds, including the Georgetown Cricket Club. But you had to pay for court time and this restricted access to working class players.
Many years ago, those without an appreciation of history had the brilliant idea of converting the limited space at Woolford Avenue into a National Racquet Centre which will host not only tennis but also squash and badminton courts. Many seem to forget that the same facility once used to have grass courts.
Most of these facilities have been neglected. The cost of land and the cost of laying even a grass court are beyond the means of individuals interested in promoting tennis locally.
This leaves the prime responsibility for establishing new facilities to the government. But those in authority have a penchant for concrete rather than grass courts. But there is a serious problem in the Sports Ministry: because of the pandemic it has now foolishly categorised sport into core and non-core disciplines. You do not need to ask in to which category tennis falls!
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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