Rusedski's Wimbledon outburst - UK Sport Press 07/07/2003
Coaches Must Ensure Fair Play
British tennis must reconsider its responsibilities for ensuring fair play. That is the key message emerging at the end of the Wimbledon championships from the latest phase of the Sporting Conduct Initiative, the programme devised by UK Sport to help sports find effective ways of improving and maintaining standards of conduct.
In recent months, researchers from the University of Gloucestershire Centre for Ethics, Equity & Sport have met across the country with nearly 40 tennis coaches operating at all levels of the game to explore their views on fair and unfair play. The picture presented is that of a sport which, particularly at the grass roots, often finds it hard to address the difficult issues of misconduct and cheating. Certainly, this year’s Wimbledon will be remembered, among other things, for Greg Rusedski’s tirade of four-letter words during his match with Andy Roddick.
"The great plus which comes out of our research," said UK Sport Chairman, Sir Rodney Walker, "is that coaches perceive tennis to be something that is, and ought to be, about more than merely teaching backhands and forehands. Like many sports, it can be a tremendous vehicle for the overall development of young people.
"But whereas the professional game has done much to clean up its act – our spectator survey a couple of years ago showed how tennis fans thought that the conduct of top players had actually improved in the last ten years or so – there are a number of issues at club level."
According to coaches, these issues include a tacit acceptance of rule-bending, undue parental pressure and an over-emphasis on winning that, among juniors, can actually be detrimental to their skills development. Young players also seem to be learning inappropriate behaviours at an increasingly earlier age. One coach said: "The reason why you don’t see any little acts of sportsmanship any more is that every time a kid plays a match now, it’s all to do with the ratings or their reputation." Another added: "There are a lot of girls taking toilet breaks just after the warm up, but they let the girls sit down … they are not having toilet breaks, they are talking with coaches and parents."
"Coaches seem uncertain as to how best to use their role and influence," said Dr Heather Sheridan who led the University of Gloucestershire team. "On the one hand, the coaches we spoke to expressed concerns about some of the worrying things they see happening on and off the court; on the other, they were quite open in telling us about a number of highly questionable tactics that seem to be generally accepted as part and parcel of the game, particularly at the junior level where players have to umpire their own matches.
"Many coaches class themselves as self-employed and can often find themselves in an invidious position: telling it how it should be to an unreceptive parent may mean them losing an important source of income."
Walker believes that fair play is a collective responsibility of the entire tennis community. "There is a limit to what any one organisation can achieve in promoting ‘good tennis’," he advised. "But I am sure that, as the leading governing body for tennis in Britain, the Lawn Tennis Association will be interested in what we our report is saying. We have already shared our main findings with the LTA and look forward to further discussions with them about the recommendations arising from the report."