Friday, 26 June 2009

Faulty Love

A plucky British underdog at Wimbledon - public domain Elana Baltacha has been having a rough couple of days of it. The Moderate White-Skirted Hope of British women’s tennis is only just knocked out of the second round at Wimbledon, when she hears Minister for Sport Gerry Sutcliffe threatening to cut state funding to the game, on the grounds of continued failure to bring home an appropriate bag of trophies for the glory of the nation. The time for tough love has arrived. "Why are we not having the production line of players that other countries do?" he demands - so eloquently expressing his government's attitude towards both pastime and participants, that satire slinks off dejectedly to the dole hole. Ms Baltacha objects that this is not the sort of treatment she and her plucky band of comrades deserve. Thus far, at least, I agree with her.

The idea of the Government’s investing its time and authority in an earnest Five-Year Plan to make sure the Right People Win Tennis Matches is, indeed, an offence. The idea that the rest of us need to have our scanty wages docked to meet this national emergency goes beyond insult into injury. The Minister for Tiddlywinks should not be threatening to withdraw his largesse to the Lawn Tennis Association, or anybody else. He should not have any to give!

And supposing I accept that tennis, and tiddlywinks, and tossing one’s enormous caber are proper uses of public moneys anyway, then it is still not our plucky underdogs on the Grand Slam circuit who are their proper object. All those public parks and the dusty little courts thereon do need maintenance, and provide their thousands and tens of thousands of obscure folk with many a happy hour. Maybe our next Baltacha or our first Williams sister will come from there, and reap a harvest of trophies fit to dazzle every eye and set the fountains flowing with Pimm’s No.1 Cup. Or maybe she won’t. I couldn't really give a Minister's caber-toss.

Because tennis is properly played - not for the collection of cold metal, or for the putting down of foreigners - but for the players, and for love.

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