Andy Murray is prepared to help fund a tennis academy on an earmarked site in Edinburgh.
The 25-year-old US Open tennis champion and his mother, Judy, were involved in talks with First Minister Alex Salmond after the player’s emotional homecoming to Dunblane on Sunday and the academy was the major subject on the agenda.
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Mr Salmond said last night: “We had a positive discussion about their idea for a tennis academy which is certainly in line with the Scottish Government’s ambition to improve young Scots’ participation in sport. We’ll be exploring this with the Murrays and their team over the next two months and we hope to make an announcement in this regard in the near future.”
No more details were given but The Herald can reveal the preferred location for the academy is on the site of the former Dunfermline College of Education in Cramond. Homes have been built on this plot but 15 acres were reserved for sporting purposes as a condition of sale to the developers.
Plans have now been drawn up for eight outside courts, eight inside courts and a cafe and gym. It is hoped the facilities will help boost the “outreach programmes”, namely allowing children from deprived areas a chance to play the game.
This area is vacant and it is understood that cricket authorities are keen to share a new-build academy on the site. It is also attractive because of its central location in Scotland with good road and air links.
Money is available for the project with the Lawn Tennis Association and private investors strongly supportive of the plans. Murray has pledged financial support as well as the considerable cachet of his name.
The meeting between Mr Salmond and the Murrays was to gauge the level of Scottish Government backing. Funds would be given to the project through sportscotland and it is understood the Murrays are keen for a tangible sign of support rather than huge sums from the Government.
There are potential hitches to the development, principally the precise cost of a new build. No figures on the plans could be obtained last night but it is hoped the centre can be provided for considerably less than one-quarter of the £40 million it cost to construct the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton.
However, the talks on Sunday have made substantial progress on the viability of the centre, with all parties keen to emphasise that the academy would not be primarily for the development of elite players.
This has long been the dream of Judy Murray who has been pursuing the idea of providing top-class facilities for young players while also having a hub to develop Scottish coaches.
Her son, who left Scotland as a teenager to practise and be coached at the Sanchez-Casal Academy in Barcelona, shares his mother’s passion for attracting children into sport in general and tennis in particular. He is adamant that tennis should not be a game of the privileged and sees the outreach programme as central to the academy’s purpose.
Last week, in a direct response to Murray’s victory at Flushing Meadows in the final of the US Open, and a golden Olympics, sporting bodies told MSPs that Scotland needed to secure a legacy from the summer of sporting success.
Murray said then that an academy “would make a big difference”, adding: “It’s a suggestion I will make and we’ll see what happens.”
Mr Salmond said he was delighted to have met Murray and present him with his official Royal Mail Stamp for his success at the London Olympics.
He added: “Scotland is very, very lucky to have Andy Murray, whose legendary status is now secured for all time, and his triumphs at both the Olympics and at the US Open will act as a spur for future generations of Scots to emulate his success.
“Both Andy and Judy are passionate about developing tennis in Scotland to ensure that youngsters have greater access to the facilities and coaching they need to make the most of their talent and potential.”
Judy Murray said last night: “The talks were certainly positive but I would stress that there are still decisions to be taken and hurdles to be overcome.”
She added: “I want to emphasise that this academy would not be about the elite level, it is about inclusion. The academy must be a part of the community and bring people in who would not normally be thought of as tennis people. We must have a plan, something that is sustainable for 10 years.
“The academy would be part of this but it is all about opening the game up.”