THERE can be no doubt that British tennis has made unprecedented progress in the past year, even though much of it is due to the reflected glow of Andy Murray's achievements.
The Lawn Tennis Association can claim little credit for Murray's development, so it is unclear why the LTA paid chief executive Roger Draper £640,000 this year. Repeat that figure slowly. Prime Minister David Cameron earns just a quarter of that. Indeed, the salary plus bonus of the tennis ceo surpasses that of the new chairman of the Bank of England.
Recent confirmation of Draper's remuneration, which included a £201,000 bonus, emerged from their annual accounts, and was closely followed by Sport England withholding £10m from grass-roots tennis funding, due to the LTA's dismal participation figures. Did Draper have a contract which rewarded the first British men's grand slam singles win in 74 years? Or one which acknowledged Olympic gold? Or both? We think the British tennis public deserves to be told, so we asked about the bonus. The LTA mouth remained zipped more tightly than a Wimbledon net cord, and we have joined the list of UK hacks who have failed to discover why Draper's cloth is cut so generously.
"We don't comment on the specifics of individual colleague remuneration," the LTA told me, but helpfully added that it was determined by a "remuneration committee" which engages independent consultants who benchmark earnings "against other similar sized companies inside and outside sport".
Many would consider Draper's salary obscene. The Scottish governing body, which fears biting the hand that feeds it, won't utter a word of criticism. Unsurprisingly, the LTA's total annual support for Tennis Scotland (£783,211) is not much more than Draper personally trousered this year.
LTA annual income is roughly twice what UK sport gave over four years to any sport to prepare for London 2012. So great, in fact, that UK Sport gave tennis nothing towards the Olympics. They didn't fund football, neither will they fund golf for the 2016 Games. However, Sport England supports grass-roots tennis development, and their verdict on the LTA was so damning that they are withholding 75% of their four-year award.
Of 46 sports, only 11 received less, with tennis the most savagely cut. Other sports with a fraction of tennis's resources managed to muster solid cases for investment. Tennis was cut by £7.1m compared to the previous term, with £10.3m of its £17.4m total (down from £24.5m) being put on hold.
Sport England ceo Jennie Price said: "Tennis has not performed well in terms of participation. Their plan simply wasn't strong enough to justify the four-year investment."
To secure anything beyond one year, any of that £10.3m, the LTA must demonstrate an improved plan for increasing participation. If they can't, funding could be allocated directly to clubs. In light of this, Draper's remuneration is staggering.
This suggests an inefficient, bloated sport, so complacent that it feels it can simply squander resources. LTA income for 2011/12 was £73.2m, more than half of which is a record surplus from Wimbledon, courtesy of the All England Club who are still honouring a debt which dates back 90 years. At this distance, with so much paid back, it seems little short of loan-sharking.
LTA administration, including salaries, cost £15.6m this year, bankrolling a staff of 311. Glossy LTA publications and high-tech online services talk of increased participation, but Sport England evidently dismiss this as spin. Their Active People survey for all sports shows tennis had 457,200 participants taking moderate exercise (30 minutes at least once a week) in October 2006. By October 2009 this had risen to 530,900. By October this year it had slumped to 445,100.
During Draper's tenure, coaches, senior executives, and other highly paid staff, have departed in droves, often with handsome pay-offs. Those such as John Lloyd, Carl Maes, Brad Gilbert, David Felgate, Mark Petchey, Paul Annacone, Peter Lundgren, Nigel Sears, and Steve Maartens represent by no means an exhaustive list. Draper supporters might cite the elevated rankings of Murray, Heather Watson, and Laura Robson. Critics counter that this owes little to the LTA system.
Yet omens over sportscotland Tennis Scotland funding, due in February, seem much more propitious. There is little fat about the Craiglockhart-based governing body, whose payroll numbers the equivalent of just 16 full-time staff. The contrast with the LTA could hardly be more marked.
Tennis Scotland's annual report reveals a 17.6% increase (25,872 signing up as members of British Tennis this year); 44,806 more registered to play at tennis facilities (up 7%); an extra 13.7% of juniors playing competitively; and a 12% increase in clubs achieving the governing body's "Clubmark".
There is also an 8% increase in level-three coaches, but given the "Murray effect", and Olympic exposure, the governing body is having to work hard to ensure coach numbers match growth. "It's a fine balance," says Tennis Scotland chief executive David Marshall. He says participation figures do not include an increase in pay-and-play numbers, which sportscotland won't include. He insists the same applies to England. "We don't do the same kind of survey, so it's difficult to make comparisons, but our data, outside the huge increase in pay-and-play, is robust. We are grateful for the help of local authorities, and are very keen to work with them."
Local authorities are the biggest investors in tennis, and it is sobering to reflect that Sport England criticism can hardly encourage such key backers, or potential sponsors. Scotland is trying to more accurately evaluate casual playing numbers, however Marshall remains confident in the data by which sportscotland will judge his sport. Given allegations of a culture of fear among clubs which dare not risk protest, concerned at vindictiveness when it comes to future funding cuts, it's unsurprising that Marshall is guarded on Draper's extravagant remuneration. "We've not had much dialogue about that," he says, "but that is a difficult one for us."
Twenty-five years ago, we wrote how criticism of LTA funding for the Scottish game was gagged by similar fears. Little has changed, but the Murray factor should surely stiffen Scotland's backbone. We will never have a stronger case.
Draper's contract ends next year, but the questions is surely not whether he will be re-employed, but why he has survived for so long. By any standards, he is appalling value for money.