British tennis is often described as inherently elitist: Wimbledon has connotations of Pimms, strawberries and cream, and the quintessential English afternoon; suburban clubs across the country enforce tennis whites only rules; and it would probably be easier to infiltrate Mi6 than the ranks of the Queen’s Club membership.
Naomi Broady, who is currently ranked 88th as a women’s singles player, has fallen victim to the elitist attitude of the Lawn Tennis Association in particular. In 2007, when she was 17, the LTA suspended her after an “inappropriate” and “unprofessional” photograph of the athlete appeared on social media.
The photo showed Broady on a night out with friends, posing next to – shock, horror – a condom machine in the toilets. Broady was criticised for publicising and promoting a lifestyle of partying and drinking with LTA chief Roger Draper stating of junior players that “they’ve either got to behave like professional athletes, or go and do something else.”
At the time, Broady was national under 18 champion, ending her junior career in the best possible place. With her LTA suspension came the stripping of her £20,000 a year funding, the withdrawal of her coaching, and a ban from Roehampton.
Following the decision, Broady’s father pulled her brother Liam, then aged 12, from the LTA programme, and sold the family home to fund the siblings’ tennis careers. For Broady, this meant playing without a coach, and competing very much on a “day at a time” basis. In self-funding her career, she became reliant on winning prize money just in order to progress to more tournaments – she has argued that “it makes you fight harder on court because if you don’t fight and win, then you can’t afford the next tournament.”
When the LTA lifted her suspension and offered to reinstate her funding, Broady refused on principle, but it is undeniable that their actions have affected her tennis career. She has spoken out against their overblown reaction to a normal teenage night out, arguing that “it didn’t happen during a tournament and it wasn’t in a training block. Tell me any 17-year old who doesn’t have a beer once in a while? If it had been affecting my tennis, then fair enough, but it wasn’t.”
Broady is right, and the uncomfortable truth is that the problem was not with her game, or her commitment to training – it was with her image. Ultimately, the LTA was embarrassed by her “vulgar” photograph, unpalatable to its members, showing one of its most promising stars failing to fit the image of blonde haired, blue eyed school girl.
Her success since has been remarkable: 2016 saw her topple the world number 16, and former number 1, Ana Ivanovic 7-5, 6-4 at the US Open, and a month later break into the world top 100. This is all the more noteworthy when you consider that she has done this without the considerable and weighty backing of the LTA afforded to her counterparts. Broady has demonstrated that she is capable of playing gutsy, world class tennis – imagine what she could have achieved with the same support as, say, Heather Watson has benefited from. Or even, in a more direct comparison, Dan Evans has.
Judy Murray has spoken out about the desperate need for widening the game, calling for more free courts to “put tennis where it has never been before.” Pat Cash, too, has slammed the LTA for not doing enough to support immensely talented young working-class players. Even Andy Murray in his early days came under fire for not having the “right image”; his failure to adhere to the clean-cut, all-whites, unfailingly charming stereotype meant that he too was criticised by many officials – it wasn’t until his glorious summer of Wimbledon victory and an Olympic gold that he was truly warmed to.
The LTA and their outdated ideals are systematically ruining the chances of potential champions. Had Murray been subjected to the same treatment as Broady, who knows whether we would still be waiting for that British number 1.
© 2020 Glasgow Guardian | All rights reserved