Wheelchair tennis unjustly sidelined

 

As Wimbledon draws to a close, there has certainly been some great tennis on show. The best players in the world have treated the world to some high-quality action, while a few surprises and fairytales have also been sprinkled in.

The issue of prize money has also reared its head at these championships. All four Grand Slams offer equal prize money to men and women. The main argument from people against this stance is that female players play a maximum of three sets, as opposed to a maximum of five sets played by their male counterparts. However, these contentions are, in my view, of little consequence. The winner of either competition will this year pocket £2m. Even if you go out at the first round, you will be £30,000 richer.

These sums are eye-watering compared to the prize money in wheelchair tennis. The winner of the singles event on either side will receive the relatively small sum of £25,000, one-eightieth of the figure commanded by the able-bodied athletes. In the wheelchair doubles, each player in the pair will receive £12,000, whereas individuals in victorious men’s, women’s or mixed doubles teams will win £350,000.

The disparity between the two sets of figures is incredible and suggests that disability sport is not taken very seriously at all. Going out in the first round of the able-bodied event is more lucrative than winning the wheelchair singles competition. How can this be right?

Following London 2012, it was assumed that Paralympic sport would receive far greater exposure in mainstream media than it had done previously. Admittedly, Wimbledon is making strides. This year saw the staging of the first-ever singles event for both sexes. However, it received peripheral coverage. Despite the exploits of Gordon Reid and Alfie Hewett, who become the first Britons to secure the men’s doubles wheelchair title, their win received relatively little air-time on the BBC. Allied to this, the match was shunted out to Court 17, hardly a fitting venue for a major final. 

The Grand Slam tournament organisers will argue that the low level of prize money offered to wheelchair athletes reflects the relative lack of demand from spectators. Whatever the merits of this argument, they have not done their best to promote the sport. If none of the wheelchair matches are scheduled for any of the show courts, how is interest supposed to be drummed up? While Reid and Hewett were creating history, many of the main courts were given away to invitational matches, which, while entertaining, should be lent far less importance than the wheelchair events.

Tomorrow, Reid will attempt to sew up the singles title, while Jordanne Whiley will attempt to secure the women’s doubles title with her Japanese playing partner Yui Kamiji. These stories should be celebrated, but they have all too easily been drowned out.

Alex Bowmer

Featured image: Leon Neal/AFP Photo

International call-ups strengthen Yorkshire Jets’ case for inclusion

Five Yorkshire Jets players have been called up to England squads for two international tours, heightening disbelief that the club have been refused a Superleague licence for next season.

Imogen Allison and Jess Shaw will be heading to Australia with one section of the Under-21s and National Academy squad while Rosie Harris, Claudia Heath and Hannah Gorman are part of the same set-up flying to Jamaica. Their selections follow the decision by England Netball not to grant the Jets a licence, despite the expansion of the league from eight teams to 10. The sport’s governing body informed the club that the decision was taken due to concerns over the club’s lack of a major backer and the inadequate infrastructure in place. The contracts for the teams in next year’s competition last for four years, so the Jets, who won only one league match last season, are unlikely to rejoin the top table until 2021 at the earliest.

The England selection announcement underlines the Jets’ well­-established reputation for nurturing and developing promising young players, making the decision to reject the club’s application all the more controversial. Given the club’s current position, these players will have to move to further their careers if the decision to reject their application is not overturned.

Coach Anna Carter was perplexed at the treatment of the club by England Netball. She said: “We’ve had little support from the governing body. Do we draw a line under it or do we reapply?’’ The chair of the team, Mariana Pexton, added her disappointment. “Not having a Superleague franchise for Yorkshire, given all that has been achieved, seems like throwing away a huge opportunity and is a setback for netball and women’s sport in the region.”

A petition has been set up on Change.org calling for the team to be re­instated in Superleague. “Get netball brought back to Yorkshire’’ has garnered over 1,100 signatures, underlining the depth of support that the team enjoys.

England Netball’s statement on Monday said that it will “continue to work with Jets and the wider Yorkshire netball community to ensure talented players and coaches have the opportunity to develop and excel.” They also pledged to work with the Jets “and other unsuccessful applicants to create a foundation that will allow them to join the league in a stronger position in the future, should expansion be possible.’’

Pam Hoyle, chair of Yorkshire Netball, said that she was “deeply upset’’ and “shocked’’ by the decision. She said that Yorkshire Netball are working with the Jets “to try and ensure we continue to provide high-quality coaching to the future stars of our sport to ensure they get the support they need to achieve success.’’ She also promised to make her feelings known to England Netball about the potential impact of the decision “on behalf of the region.’’

Alex Bowmer

Featured image: Thomas Gadd Photography