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Making a case for Barbados’ indigenous sport

Road tennis, said to be the creation of Barbadian author George Lamming and the late Lance Bynoe, has been around since the 1930s.

It is played in every nook and cranny of the island.

Over the years, the game has gathered impetus, thanks to the efforts of its organizing bodies, the tireless work of its veteran players, and the National Sports Council. Minister of Sports Stephen Lashley has taken a keen interest in the game and his Silver Hill, Christ Church tournament has become a staple on the road tennis calendar

The recently concluded Monarchs Of The Courts road tennis competition again demonstrated the immense potential of the sport. If the crowds seen at Belfield and Spring Garden, in the parish of St Michael, and Coverley, in Christ Church, may be used as a gauge, the sport presents significant opportunities for positive exploitation.

Estimates of about 1,500 to 2,000 attended individual nights at Coverley and Spring Garden. These are numbers no longer seen at domestic cricket grounds on Saturdays and Sundays in the island. The sport of road tennis is ripe for investment from private sector stakeholders who all have products and services for sale and a market that appears to grow with each tournament.

Some who have worked tirelessly –– often without monetary reward –– with the administration and promotion of road tennis in Barbados have been at pains to stress that there are entities in places like China, Venezuela and the United States which have familiarized themselves with the sport. Their purpose is to exploit all the possibilities which road tennis has to offer.

What makes the road tennis so attractive is that unlike cricket, motor sport, golf and others of similar ilk, it is an inexpensive game to pursue and requiring inexpensive equipment with which to participate. It can be played by both the very young and the very old, where declining reflexes will not necessarily lead to serious personal injury or harm to others.

And it gets better.

Road tennis is an excellent form of cardiovascular exercise: bending, squatting, lunging, twisting, quick sprints, co-ordinated sideways movement at different rates of speed, arm movement, et al. The game is a low to high impact exercise regime requiring only a cheap racquet, cheap ball, and a concrete surface. In a country like Barbados where diabetes, obesity and heart failure are among the highest in the world, the sport should perhaps be an addendum on every prescription administered by a physician.

There was a time, 40, 50 years ago when almost every Barbadian child made scooters for his or her personal amusement. In this now techno-crazy world such “archaic pastimes” are hardly ever seen. Today we prefer to purchase scooters from North American factories.

The more road tennis grows in Barbados –– and its growth is spurting –– the more opportunities it presents for young enterprising Barbadians to make racquets in bulk, to fashion them to specific requirements and to experiment with different materials. It is a small industry, with potential for growth, just waiting to happen. At least one senior road tennis official has lamented that already some in North America and China are looking at Barbados as a market to sell racquets.

What is particularly satisfying with the development of the sport is that everybody plays road tennis. It is no longer seen as the “poor village boy” sport. It has been embraced by every social and racial background in the country. Organizers gave road tennis an even greater competitive edge by introducing the parish element where communities played against other, and thus it drew out increased levels of participation from a wider cross-section of the community.

The most recent tournament that offered an attractive $10 000 first prize saw 40 initial entrants. It is not beyond the realms of possibility for that number of participation to be doubled or tripled in a full-fledged league or club format with a tiered system to accommodate abilities, age and gender. Increased corporate input in the sport, additional prize money, better facilities, and a greater spread of monetary benefits, can only lead to the profile of the sport being raised in the island and beyond. As a means of providing financial assistance to players there is also a need for patrons to pay some small fee to see these athletes in action.

The buzz over the past few weeks in the Monarchs Of The Courts road tennis competition, organized by the Professional Road Tennis Association, in conjunction with the St Michael North-West Foundation, suggests that this indigenous sport is a potential gold mine.

We need to tap it fully.

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