Tuesday, November 29, 2022

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LTA praised for fighting ‘underlying racism’ in tennis

Jaidyn Murray lives and breathes tennis, but his own experiences as a black man in the sport lead to a stark admission.

“I’ve always said I would never let my kids play tennis because I know how hard it is for us to get by,” he told the PA news agency.

Coming through the ranks as a player at Middlesex, Murray has struggled through a sense of not belonging.

“It’s such an underlying racism, it’s not obvious,” he said. “I would go in in my tracksuit, with my headphones on, I don’t look like I fit into the role of a tennis player. You get looks, people are very careful with you. ‘Are you in the right place?’

“And then it seemed like I didn’t get the same opportunities as other people, which I might have been better at.”

After playing for the University of East London tennis team and coaching part-time to earn money, Murray decided to pursue the path full-time and is now, five years later, coaching in Chingford for WimX Academy.

The Lawn Tennis Association’s vision of Tennis Opened Up, launched in 2019, aims to make the sport a very different place for the Jaidyn Murrays of today and tomorrow, and he is encouraged by the changes already being made.

“Now I feel like I can express who I am without feeling judged,” he said. “People still want tennis to be a sport for white men, but it’s necessarily changing and we have to embrace it.

“I think the LTA is backing us now and saying, ‘Be you.’ The confidence I gained from that was insane.

“My mom and dad were really like, ‘Look, you got through the tough times, maybe you’re the one who can inspire someone to become a coach.’

“That was the biggest thing for me. That motivated me to keep going, no matter how difficult it gets. I kept pushing and it was noticed, which is good.

“You look around now and there are coaches for everyone and the LTA is even now teaching coaches how to deal with certain ethnic minority situations. Now I would feel more comfortable putting my child in this situation knowing they are not being discriminated against.”

In May last year, the LTA released its Inclusion Strategy, which focuses on long-term cultural change and outlines actions to achieve it.

In an update last week, the governing body said it had achieved more than 50 percent of the set of actions, including increasing diversity across its board, council and the entire workforce, and establishing a board-level inclusion and diversity advisory group.

The LTA has also formed a partnership with the Refugee Employment Network, while more than 14,000 people now participate in its SERVES program, which brings tennis to non-traditional venues in disadvantaged communities.

Wanting to avoid too much backslapping, Chief Executive Scott Lloyd says: “Right direction, yes, but ultimately this is core and central to how we intend to live inclusion day in and day out. I always try to make sure my team and we as a group of colleagues keep that in mind.

“We are only halfway through even with these measures and they will take time to embed and hopefully deliver the progress we are striving for.”

Compiling a broader dataset of the entire tennis workforce in the UK is another important step, although there is still a lack of diversity in the areas of coaching and club volunteering.

“It’s going to take some time for these things to catch on in numbers,” Lloyd said. “We’re starting to improve the way we work with our counties and the governance that’s expected of them, particularly around things like funding.

“In terms of coaching, we have introduced a number of scholarships for qualifications. So some specific actions and support to try to bring diversity into our workforce.”

Murray highlights financial aid as key to promoting diversity in coaching, but he sees visibility as paramount in many ways.

“We’ve limited ourselves to a small population,” he said. “The world is big, London in particular is very diverse. We need to tap into the communities that don’t have the opportunities.

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