Sunday 18 August 2013

'International Inspiration' - Tennis Colouring The Third World

By Sal Bolton

as seen in UK Tennis Magazine October 2013 Issue 

It's still British summer! and one year on from the close of the London 2012 Olympic Games - lots of people are out on the tennis courts having a go as the Great British Tennis Weekend kicked off all over the UK - of free tennis! Seriously, you read it right.....FREE tennis. This is an article I've written for 'UK Tennis Magazine' about the legacy of the Olympics and how UK tennis initiatives have utilised unwanted tennis equipment to inspire communities to play tennis in the UK and in the Third World.  

A little bit of my more 'serious' writing....

When London was awarded host city to stage the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, the motto echoed 'A Lasting Change' and 'Inspire a Generation' - evoking figures of 10 million people to become involved in sports project across the UK inspired by the unique and magical spell of the London 2012 Games and what it brought to the capital. A legacy is sure to remain, as the last medals were awarded at the Paralympics Closing Ceremony defining an end to a seven year journey, but the start of another. The ground-breaking legacy programme organised by the London Olympics Commitee 'International Inspiration', promised to reach 12 million children in 20 countries around the world and connect them to the inspirational power of the Games to ultimately choose sport.

This message reached many of the worlds most deprived of developing countries, predominantly in various locations in Africa where the 'International Inspiration' preached the sporting gospel, handing underprivileged communities the opportunities to partake in sporting activities. Notably, Tennis was one of the major events returning to the Olympic stage after a 64 year absence from the Summer Games, golden glory finally secured for Britain by Andy Murray's vengeful win over Rodger Federer on the lush green grass courts of Wimbledon's centre court. But spawning a new generation to pick up the game in Africa has not only been inspired by last years greatest sporting show on earth, but by volunteer organisations and individuals acting as tennis missionaries to give deprived societies the chance to pick up a racket and see where it takes them.     

 'Tennis For Free', a UK charity initiative founded by comedian Tony Hawks in 2005, was first established on a community park court in South London and has since spread nationwide, aiming to work with schools, tennis clubs and local authorities throughout the UK to give children, young people and families the chance to learn and play tennis for 50 weeks of the year FOR FREE. The charity is true to its name - giving free coaching, free equipment and public court usage to make tennis more accessible to individuals regardless of ability and social background. To date, the charity has championed free usage of 2598 UK public tennis courts and 13 free coaching programmes by volunteers, boasting patrons and supporters in Pat Cash and Judy Murray. The campaign is sure to build vibrant grass root tennis communities in the UK and amplify potential undiscovered British talent to the rest of the world.

Keeping 'International Inspiration' in mind of course, the spirit of tennis missionaries aiming to make the sport more accessible to deprived communities overseas, is present in a number of UK volunteer humanitarian tennis campaigns who have made usage of unwanted tennis equipment.

After he'd escaped from the civil war that rampaged his country decades earlier, former Sierra Leone professional tennis player Samuel Jalloh was compelled to form his own initiative 'The Sam Jalloh Sports Foundation' in 2008 to aid his home's countries struggling sports system. Through charitable donations from individuals and organisations of tennis balls, racquets, shoes, clothing and sports equipment regardless of condition, the foundations fundamental mission is to run and support tennis programmes and competitions for underprivileged children in Africa, distributing donated equipment annually to programmes stretching from Sierra Leone to the Sudan.  

Sam Jalloh with his tennis donations in Sierra Leone

London based tennis coach Denise Gwatkins founded her own charity initiative centred around the welfare of an orphanage in Uganda 'Daniels Promise'  additionally collecting and distributing donations of local tennis equipment and introducing the game to the young boys in the orphanage in Kampala.

                                                     Playing tennis in the orphanage yard

Acknowledging the impact these type of initiatives have, UK gap year organisation 'Sporting Opportunities' efficiently co-ordinate volunteer tennis placements in Africa and South America recruiting a number of enthusiastic volunteers to aid tennis activity for deprived communities - one of which at the National Sports College in the coastal town of Winneba, Ghana, supporting the Head National Coach, Noah Bagerbaseh.

As the only tennis academy in Ghana, volunteers are overwhelmed by the friendliness, enthusiasm and good nature of the athletes, training with the dreams of becoming the countries next tennis hopeful. Despite their spark and dedication, their lack of equipment and resources were undeserving, some of the tennis courts missing a net; revealing the realism of what influences the lack of Africa's presence on the international tennis scene.  

There are many kids in Africa who would love to play tennis but seldom are able to buy their own shoes, racquets and balls to get started in the sport. Giving an African child an opportunity to play tennis dares to inspire the thought that a dream of taking it further a possibility, but due to a lack of resources, this acts as an disappointing obstacle for them right from the start.

 In realism of how much of an influence these treasures of equipment would have on the communities, 'Africa Tennis Aid' a voluntary campaign was founded prior to undertaking a gap year placement in Ghana with 'Sporting Opportunities' in 2007, initiating 'racquet roundups' and appealing for unwanted tennis clothing, balls and equipment from various clubs, individuals and organisations in the South London area. In the past, the appeal distributed over £10,000 worth of tennis and sports donations to boost participation in Ghana and other African communities with the help of UK Freight Services Robert Claire and Taysec.

Generous people underestimated the impact of donating their unused tennis racquet that had been collecting dust in the cupboard not seeing the light of day for years, would have on an African child who'd never had the privilege of owning one of their own. In a sport where a varied supply of equipment is needed for consistent participation, generosity from UK donors enabled the Ghanaian Junior Squads to hit more tennis balls in structured drills.

Equipment and extra racquets enabled the discovery of new games and an increase in participation, diminishing the times when some children had to share a racquet to play, some of which had broken strings. A talent spotting clinic held at a local school invited 60 school children to be assessed on their raw potential with activities of teamwork, co-ordination, movement, speed, physical conditioning and basic tennis skills - many never having ever set their sights on a tennis ball. Tennis donations and volunteer programmes encourage more children to discover their skills and talents and using them to create a change in their life and their community. By making the tennis scene more open for the Winneba community, a number of the National Youth Squad and newly discovered dedicated junior players progressed to competing overseas and qualifying in ITF West Africa Junior competitions and scholarships.

The idea of providing sporting opportunities to those in deprived areas of Africa has been supported by racquet donations from Wilson Europe and signed clothing and photographs from former Ladies World Number One Ana Ivanovic, Andre Agassi and Tim Henman for online auctioning with charity 'Tennis For Africa'. The proceeds contributed to a Sierra Leone Secondary schools 'Christ The Kings College' ongoing quest to raise £21,000 to restore their war torn tennis courts and revitalize tennis activity back in the school. In the past, Africa Tennis Aid distributed £4,000 worth of donated tennis and sports equipment to the school and other community outreach programmes in the country.   

    War torn tennis courts at Christ The King College, Bo, Sierra Leone in need of reconstruction

Spreading the Olympics sense of inspiration and optimism in providing sporting opportunities, reflects the efforts of generous donors and organisations promoting and supporting programmes that can make tennis more accessible to a wider circle in African communities. 'A Lasting Change'  from tennis donations has enabled children to engage in healthy physical exercise, building self-respect and self-confidence to drive towards safer, brighter and productive futures......and who said 'love means nothing in the game of tennis'....

    Pupils at Christ The King College in need of a tennis court

You can read more information about other charitable tennis and sports initiatives for Africa and the Sierra Leone School Tennis Appeal at Africa Tennis Aid or please e-mail John Komeh to help the school in Sierra Leone at

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