At the start of 2017 Tennis South Africa set in place an eight-year growth plan. With a new Chief Executive at the helm and a clear focus, the sport is experiencing resurgence and corporates are taking note.
According to Richard Glover, Tennis South Africa CEO, there’s a fresh energy and positivity in tennis in the country.
“In 2017 alone, five new sponsors have come on board. And our new sponsor relationships have injected confidence into the structures as stakeholders are starting to see the results of some of those sponsorships,” says Glover.
Growthpoint Properties is the new headline sponsor. The company is sponsoring the new national club championship called the Growthpoint Top Guns and is investing in the grassroots of tennis by rolling out a series of elite national junior events, dubbed the Growthpoint Super 8.
A clear plan in place
“One of the reasons we are having success with sponsors is that they know that Tennis South Africa has a plan. This, coupled with the really good governance structures in the Federation, has led to increasing corporate confidence in tennis in this country. Corporates are interested in what’s happening in tennis again,” continues Glover.
At the beginning of the year Tennis South Africa unveiled a clear plan consisting of four goals. The first of those is an interest goal, devised to make tennis one of the five most popular sports in the country in the next eight years.
“Like many sports in this country, tennis has its set of challenges. We are very aware and honest about the obstacles that we need to resolve for the sport to really take off. It will never be as big as the big three - soccer, cricket rugby - but there’s no reason why it can’t rank among the five most popular sports in the country,” adds Glover.
There’s also a participation goal in terms of the number of members and people playing tennis in the country, along with a high performance goal relating to players at a WTA and ATP level. And then there’s a sustainability goal in terms of creating a sustainable business model for the Federation. According to Glover this means making sure that the federation is solid and stable for continued investment into the structures.
Recent performance highlights helping
Tennis in South Africa is enjoying an injection of positivity. Kevin Anderson’s recent success has helped to get non-tennis people talking about the sport again. And the SA Davis Cup team’s recent promotion to Euro Africa group 1 has contributed to this.
However, Glover is honest about the road forward. “We’re at the start of a very long journey in terms of resurrecting and growing the sport. We’re very excited about the future but recognise the work that lies ahead.”
Looking wider at the possibilities for the sport
Tennis in South Africa isn’t simply about Kevin Anderson and other elite echelons. There exists an ecosystem, of which Tennis SA is well aware, that must play a collective role in spreading the game far and wide.
Seniors tennis is one of these. Players in age denominated categories from 35 to 90 years take part in ITF Seniors World Championships all over the world each year. In fact, Cape Town successfully hosted the Young Seniors World Championships earlier this year and saw local teams perform well.
Amputee and wheelchair tennis are other codes that have been on the periphery. Jeronimo De Faria Lopes, a one-arm player currently ranked 4th in the Tennis South Africa Men’s singles 35 – 39 age group and 781 in ITF world rankings, has recently won two able-bodied tournaments and is seeking to change this.
“It is my intention to team up with the TAP World Tour and assist with creating the necessary awareness for amputee tennis by hosting a similar event in South Africa to grow the sport locally”, adds De Faria Lopes.
“These codes are absolutely critical in terms of increasing participation. We are working extremely hard to build stronger bridges with some of our affiliates like wheelchair and amputee tennis, along with the seniors,” concludes Richard Glover.
As corporate sponsors return to the sport, Tennis South Africa will have more tools to pursue a more holistic approach to development. For now, the plan is working.