Leroy Brown, Sunday Gleaner Writer
Armed with a three-year mandate and a new executive committee and board of directors, 51-year-old businessman John Bailey is determined to make tennis one of the premier sports in Jamaica and one that more youngsters will want to play.
Following his election as president on June 21, Bailey sat down with The Sunday Gleaner and gave his vision for the sport that is getting more popular, not only in Jamaica, but worldwide.
"This is a game I love dearly and I play at least three times a week," said this avid sportsman, who is married to Denise nee Williams, and is the father of three adult boys, John, 24, Christopher, 22 and Stephen, 20. He made it clear in the interview that he will be doing everything in his power to help to grow the sport over the next three years and encourage more and more boys and girls to "get themselves a racquet and get on to the tennis court".
This, in itself, he sees as one of the major obstacles facing the fraternity in Jamaica, the lack of available courts on which young people can play.
"The only real public courts we have in Jamaica are those at the Eric Bell Tennis Centre in Kingston and we are now fighting a battle to stay there. The Overseas Examination Council, which owns the lands, have asked us to vacate the premises, but we are still in dialogue with them, and I hope that they will be able to accommodate us for some time to come," he said.
The centre, which is at Piccadilly Avenue in the Cross Roads area of St Andrew, has been the home of tennis since the last century, but, he said, Tennis Jamaica had been advised that the land is needed for new buildings. "It would be a shame if we have to pack our bags and racquets and leave, and for that reason, I am remaining optimistic," Bailey said.
"The location is such an ideal one. There are several schools in the area, in addition to The Mico University College, and it is in walking distance from so many places and thousands of young people have easy access to the premises. It is an ideal spot and should remain available," he continued.
For the short term, he said, Tennis Jamaica's focus had to be on funding, as nothing can be done without adequate financing. International exposure, he said, was important for any sport, as it not only gives our athletes, but also our country, a presence in other parts of the world. There was also a deliberate effort on the part of Tennis Jamaica, he said, to start getting players who are 10 years and under more interested in the sport.
This is something exciting, he said, and Tennis Jamaica believes that if they are able to get very young boys and girls to start playing tennis early, they will develop a love for the sport and, hopefully, keep playing through their teenage years. Tennis, he said, was now opening doors for a lot of young people, and it was no longer only track and field that provided the opportunity to get scholarships to university.
More and more universities are recruiting young people to come to study and play, and the opportunities were increasing each year. Girls in particular are in demand, and that in itself is a good reason for them to start to play the game, he said. It was also a fact that playing tennis for a living was becoming a lucrative profession, and it presented another opportunity for young people who wanted a career in sports. One of the Tennis Jamaica goals, he said, is to find the tennis equivalent of a Usain Bolt in the next few years.
Bailey also wants to spread tennis all over Jamaica, and a push is now being made in the Ocho Rios and Montego Bay areas to get court space for young people to play on. Coaching is another key area of attention, and he is pleased at the number of good coaches that are now available in Jamaica. Many good former players are now coaching, he said, and the pool was deep.
"We are going to be producing some excellent players in the near future," he stated confidently.
Tennis, Bailey said, had some loyal sponsors and he hoped to increase the pool appreciably over the next three years. "If we give sponsors good value for their money they will stay with us, so that is our goal, and everyone will benefit from the association." The sport, he said, was also very spectator-friendly and Tennis Events that brought out the whole family, are on the calendar.
Asked to list some specific goals, Bailey said the first would be to enhance participation. He wanted youngsters from under 10 years old going up to the mature 50 years old and over players, participating. "It can be a fun thing for the family," he predicted. Next, he would like to enhance capacity. More courts islandwide are needed and Tennis Jamaica will be focusing on this goal. Enhancing communication was another prime objective he said, inside and outside Tennis Jamaica. "We must communicate better with each other, and if we do, the sport will benefit."
Finally, he confided, one had to enhance excellence. There had to be a push locally and overseas in this regard, and it was his firm belief that the cross-fertilisation that could be achieved both from travelling and from bringing top players to Jamaica to play and coach, will reap huge benefits.
"I am blessed with a good team," he said. "I intend to work hard and I know that I will get their support. The early vibes are great, inside and outside Tennis Jamaica and I am very optimistic as I start this journey," Bailey concluded.