Road tennis continues to grow bigger and bigger in Barbados, attracting thousands of spectators and hundreds of participants. But the sport has no home and chief executive officer of the Professional Road Tennis Association, Dale Clarke, believes the time has long passed that it did.
Speaking to Barbados TODAY following the conclusion Sunday fortnight of the Barbados Public Workers Co-Operative Credit Union Monarchs Of The Court Road Tennis Tournament at the Big Rock Arena, Spring Garden Highway, Clarke said an effort previously to secure at least a temporary home for road tennis had been frustrated.
“A few years ago, I submitted a proposal to Kensington Oval Managment Inc. to lease the bond but it was turned down. I was amazed when it was subsequently used for a number of sports it was unsuited for. Volleyball could not be played there because the roof was too low. Basketball was impossible because of the size of the court which presented a danger to the players. Road tennis is our indigenous sport, the bond is located next to Kensington Oval, the mecca of cricket in the West Indies. Barbados has produced several world class cricketers. I think having the home of road tennis located next to the Oval can only serve the sport in good stead. Malcolm Marshall who is considered to be the greatest fast bowler ever was also a champion road tennis player. I think the bond can be a temporary home for the sport,” Clarke said.
He added: “In the future, it is my intention to produce road tennis finals that attract over 10,000 spectators. So the time will come when we need a venue even bigger than the bond. But for now it can serve as the temporary home for the sport.”
Clarke said his vision for road tennis goes beyond staging tournaments: “I do not just look at the playing of the game. I see the opportunities road tennis can provide for several people. My dream is to create opportunities where Barbadians can take road tennis all over the world. In the same way Cuba has been exporting coaches throughout the world to coach in various sports, I see Barbadians coaching and officiating at road tennis tournaments all over the globe,” Clarke said.
He rejected the school of thought that Barbados should cling on to the sport and not allow anyone steal it, and suggested rather than clinging on to road tennis, it must be seen as an area that can generate foreign exchange for the country. Clarke said this could be achieved by sending coaches to teach the sport around the world.
“If we send coaches to places like Australia, England and the Far East, then I can see people from those countries along with their family and friends coming here in the future to take part in various tournaments like it is done in cricket,” Clarke said.
He expressed his delight at the success of the Monarchs Of The Court Tournament which offered the first prize of cars valued at over $60,000 to the winners of the men and women’s open singles championship.
“The last three weeks were a bit challenging due to the inclement weather. In the end, we managed to produce the biggest and the best road tennis tournament on the island. I am very pleased with the results, especially with the fact that veteran Julian “Michael Jackson” White, the number two seed in the tournament, won the open men singles championship,” Clarke said.
“He was around for years, I felt really good to see him win one of the big road tennis tournaments. I think his victory did a lot for the sport that night. Tennis was the true champion. Tennis won that night,” he added.
The two outstanding features of the tournament for Clake were the standard of tennis played by the female players and the emergence of Damian “Force Ripe” Taylor who was eliminated in the semi-finals by White.
“I thought the level of tennis played by the women in the tournament was indicative of the prize they were playing for. I think with a little more mental application to his game, Taylor will be a force to reckon with in the future. When I look back on the tournament, I think the tennis was of a high standard. I hope the players would see the opportunities provided by these tournaments and will train hard along with doing the drills that are required for them to keep the game at such a high level,” Clarke said.
He stated it made no sense to have sponsors investing in road tennis and the players not performing at their highest level.
“They have step up to the plate and keep improving their game and see the sport as a profession, Mark “Venom” Griffith is the only professional road tennis player at the moment but others can emulate him because road tennis has reached the point where I can safely say that a person can earn a living from it,” Clarke said.
However, Clarke reasoned that the sport lacked a consistent development structure.
“Road tennis comes to the fore only when there is a tournament and it should not be that way. There have to be developmental programmes. I have said on many occasions that the Professional Road Tennis Association is willing to work with all the organisations involved with the game. The sport is bigger than any person or association. We have to come together and look at a serious plan where all levels of road tennis can be addressed,” Clarke said.
He added: “The vision of the Professional Road Tennis Association is to push the professional aspect of the spot but we need the developmental programmes coming through. A serious junior programme in the primary and secondary schools is a must. Rather than working together everyone is trying to do their own thing. Everyone is trying to compete when there should not be a competition that will water down the product,” he suggested.
Clarke stressed that there was room for the junior, amateur and professional levels of the sport and issued a call for everyone involved in the sport to come together rather than try to stage tournaments just because of the popularly of the game.
“There should be a meeting between the various bodies involved with the sport to determine the roles each of them can play in the development of road tennis,” Clarke noted.