LTA shine spotlight on Open Court disability tennis programme ahead of UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities
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Ahead of the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Thursday (3 December), the LTA has reiterated its commitment to helping disabled people get active and play tennis through its sector-leading Open Court programme.
It wants tennis to help lead the resumption of disability sporting activity once lockdown restrictions end in England on Wednesday, and is supporting tennis venues across the country to get sessions back up and running.
Disabled people have been one of the groups most impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, and Sport England Chief Executive Tim Hollingsworth recently warned there is a real danger disabled people will be left behind as the sport and physical activity sector recovers. The LTA agrees that cannot be allowed to happen, and with lockdown restrictions in England ending this week and play already permitted in Scotland and Wales, the governing body is playing its part by working to get the Open Court programme back up and running to provide vital opportunities for disabled people to get active.
An LTA survey of Open Court participants has shown that while the majority say they are excited about the prospect of getting back on court and have missed the social interaction and wellbeing benefits they get from playing, it is also clear that even before this lockdown there still existed some apprehension about doing so. Almost half of disabled players said they felt uncertain about their safety and anxious about returning, and highlighted the importance of tennis venues reassuring users by continuing to promote the extensive hygiene and social distancing measures that have been put in place and the safe nature of tennis.
Shining a spotlight on disability tennis
To coincide with the UN international day, the LTA is therefore using this week to shine a spotlight on disability tennis and all those involved in it to help encourage more people to return to court and new players to give it a try. The theme of the international day this year is ‘Building Back Better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 World’, and the LTA is committed to ensuring tennis in Britain continues to show how sport can help achieve that.
As a sport, tennis is a naturally socially distant activity and so is very low risk, while it can be easily adapted for players with different impairments at any level, making it a perfect way to help disabled people get active. The LTA has equipped a number of Open Court tennis venues with adaptive equipment to enable people to give the sport a go, such as wheelchairs to help movement around the court or tennis balls that make a noise when they bounce to help visually impaired players track the ball.
More disabled people than ever before were playing tennis before coronavirus
Since its launch following the London 2012 Paralympic Games, the LTA’s Open Court programme has grown to become one of the largest disability programmes of its kind in any sport, with a record number of disabled people playing tennis across Britain in 2019. The continued development of the programme and making tennis more relevant, accessible, welcoming and enjoyable for disabled people, forms part of the LTA’s wider commitment to inclusion and diversity, and it’s strategy to open tennis in Britain up to more people.
Through the Sport England funded programme, the LTA works with a range of partner organisations and a network of more than 400 venues across the country to provide opportunities to play tennis to people with a range of impairments and long-term health conditions. As well as supporting clubs and venues to become more inclusive, Open Court provides subsidised sessions for deaf tennis, learning disability tennis, visually impaired tennis and wheelchair tennis, alongside activity to help people with mental health problems and a range of other conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.
Alongside that, the LTA also coordinates a calendar of disability-specific tennis competitions both regionally and nationally across Britain, providing the chance for anyone to compete at an appropriate level for them, whether they are a novice or a seasoned player.
The surge in grassroots disability tennis participation has also translated to increased success at an international level. There has been greater prominence of wheelchair tennis with the success of the likes of Alfie Hewett and Jordanne Whiley at Grand Slams, but more broadly, last year Great Britain was the only nation in the world to win trophies and medals at all four of the major international disability tennis tournaments covering visually impaired tennis, learning disability tennis, deaf tennis and wheelchair tennis.
What They Said
Olly Scadgell, LTA Participation Director, said: “Great Britain is now regarded as one of the leading nations in the world for disability tennis, and everyone who has played a part in the Open Court programme in any way, whether as a player, coach, official or volunteer, should be rightly proud of that.
“While the coronavirus pandemic has presented a number of challenges for disabled people, it has been pleasing to see the Government prioritising exemptions for disability sport to allow it take place under all tiers of restrictions. In putting a real focus on disability tennis this week we are hoping to encourage more players to feel confident about returning to court once this lockdown period ends, as well as encourage some new players to pick up a racket.”
Phil Smith, Director of Sport at Sport England, said: “It is really important that sport as a sector ensures that disabled people are not left behind as we return to getting active in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. It is fantastic to see the LTA putting a real focus on getting the Open Court programme back up and running to build on the success it has achieved over the last few years, and Sport England is proud of our role in supporting that.
“While tennis generally helps deliver physical and mental health and wellbeing benefits for participants, we know that is particularly the case for disabled people, and so we hope to see lots of players enjoying being back on court in the coming months, as well as some new players picking up a racket and giving it a go.”
To find out more about disability tennis and how to get involved, click here.