Wales risks losing a generation of rising young athletes due to facilities being closed.
That’s the view of GB tennis coach Fran Lewis. She and other sporting leaders in Wales wrote to First Minister Mark Drakeford asking for more ‘elite dispensation’ for rising athletes during lockdown restrictions.
Along with Tennis Wales, Fran Lewis has written to the first minister on numerous occasions about her fear of how the current lockdown will affect the few top tennis players they have.
“Sport in Wales is Just not valued by the government”
“The elite status is ridiculous in Wales”, Lewis said.
“Wales is a very, very poor sporting nation, and we’ve put the toughest criteria on elite status for athletes; sport is just not valued by the government’.
One of Fran’s top tennis players, who is currently number one in Great Britain, has not been granted ‘elite dispensation’ due to several factors. He is not over sixteen and not an upcoming Commonwealth or Olympic hopeful because of his age.
“One of my players is number one in Britain, like you don’t get that very often from tennis in Wales, and you’re asking for one exemption, and they block that. They are supporting the smallest pool of players and athletes and completely wiping out generations.”
A small handful of top tennis players in Wales have had to make big decisions by travelling to other countries to continue training.
Seventeen-year-old GB tennis player, Hugo Cochlin, made the big decision to move to Sweden last March when the Welsh government brought in tight restrictions for sport.
“For people like me, we’re in this transitional phase where we’re trying to go professional and we’re trying to do things but now they’re stopping it,” Hugo said.
Hugo, who has played in some of Tennis’s most prestigious tournaments like the Orange Bowl and has played for Great Britain in the European Cup, still did not qualify for ‘elite dispensation’ and therefore made a move to ‘Good to Great’ tennis academy in Sweden.
Wanting to make a career out of tennis means having a full-time training schedule, which Hugo could not get in Wales.
He believes this move was necessary to enable him to continue training at a high standard.
“We’re in this lost age group where a lot of talent will just go missing, where you might have some of the biggest stars, like Andy Murray, in our generation”.
Fran and Hugo both fear of the long term impact this extended time away from the courts will have on top tennis players in Wales.
They believe it could be potentially irreversible and have significant impacts on the sport in the future.