First of all, apologies that yesterday's #SampleSunday post went up a little later in the day than intended. I had scheduled it for 08:00, but had obviously reverted to a draft when amending links. So, user error.
We didn't catch it until the evening as Dan and I spent the day at the Wimbledon Championships watching Andy Murray end the 8 decade long search for a British champion (though more than a few Saltires were on display in the crowds). It was a wonderful atmosphere with nearly every seat in the house packed out. Wimbledon looks pretty intimate on television, and Centre Court is smaller than say, the Arthur Ashe stadium in New York, but it's still pretty big. Many of the seats are hidden way up in the rafters, under the eaves of the roof (and have a view to match). One of the most interesting moments were the false starts on the early Championship Points - with entire sections roaring with victory before the ball was called out.
If you ever get the chance to go, do it. It's amazing. The public ballot opens August 1st for the 2014 championships. Unfortunately, flexibility is required as you don't get to pick which seats or even which stadium let alone your preferred match / day. I wish they'd come up with a better system. The ballot is always massively oversubscribed by an order of 10x magnitude... but many seats remain vacant. Some of those are Royal Box, some Corporate, some Debenture Holder seats... but sometimes people just want one big match and not the rest. For example, yesterday was rammed for the Men's Singles.. but 2/3rds empty for the Mixed Doubles that followed.
The other major flaw with Wimbledon is the disrespect given to Wheelchair Tennis. Wimbledon has multiple show courts, and is open for a full day. Yesterday's 'big' matches were from 14:00 on Centre, with invitationals going on in Court 1.
The wheelchair tennis, both finals and 3rd place playoffs, were relegated to courts 14 and 18. Instead of a capacity of 15,000, they have a capacity of <500. Even courts 2 & 3 can manage 4000 & 2962 respectively.
We watched the 3rd place women's playoff on court 14, Ellerbrock & Walraven versus Shuker & Buis. This was incredible tennis to watch. Sabine Ellerbrock is the world #1 women's singles player, and has an incredible serve. Her partner for Wimbledon, Sharon Walraven, is a 7 times Grandslam winner and holds Gold and Silver Paralympic medals. Again, a career high of #1 in Doubles, and #2 in Doubles.
Up against these formidable women were Brit, Lucy Shuker, and her Dutch partner, Marjolein Buis.
I know what you're thinking. Young, promising British player versus world #1.
Doesn't sound that different to the Men's Singles, does it? Young, promising Murray versus world #1 Novak Djokovic.
Yet, the men's singles attracted a sold out crowd of 15,000 plus many millions of viewers on television (and sponsorship to match!).
The Wheelchair Women's Doubles had a couple of hundred. OK, it wasn't the final. But Court 18 for the Wheelchair Men's Doubles was not much better attended. On court 14, we witnessed one of the honorary stewards turning people away - sending them off to watch Novak Djokovic train on a nearby court.
I was appalled. Watch a bloke practising, or watch some of the world's best players ACTUALLY PLAYING? Surely this is a no brainer, especially with such amazing seats available.
Here's a picture of how close we were to the action:
Front row, right next to the Shuker family cheering Lucy on. Amazing.
But, here comes kick in the pants #3 for Wheelchair Tennis (#1 being derisory court placement, and #2 being the steward). The scheduling.
The match started at 12:00 officially. Warm up was a few minutes as usual.
Wheelchair tennis often takes a little longer per set - service faults are much more common, for obvious reason (seriously, kneel down on court and see how hard it is serving from a lower height).
The big Men's Singles game started at 14:00, and with it being such a big game there was a huge crowd. To be seated in time, we needed to leave Court 14 fairly early.
The first set finished at just gone 1pm after an incredible comeback from Buis and Shuker. We left at that point. We didn't want to, but we'd paid £271 for our Centre Court tickets and didn't want to waste that. Ideally we'd have left a bit after 1pm, but we felt it was fairer to leave between sets. It's disrespectful and distracting to move in-game, and we wanted to give others the chance to nab our front row seats for the end of the game.
Kick in the pants #4 is the partial competition. Wheelchair tennis is run as a semis/ final tournament, and they only run a Wimbledon Wheelchair Doubles. No singles tournament AT ALL.
ALL the other grand slams manage it - both a true tournament, and singles games. It's a downright shame Wimbledon doesn't man up and bring their offering into line.
The 'logic' behind this is twofold:
1. It's a grass tournaments
2. There's not enough time.
I can't give much credence to either argument. The athletes on court yesterday managed fine. It does need expensive sports wheelchairs (which cost £4000 or so). That isn't an insurmountable barrier. The whole disabled tournament only had £38,000 behind it in prize money (to be split between the winning doubles). That's in kick in the balls #5. To put that in perspective, the last debenture sale raised £59.5 MILLION. Clearly, diverting say 5% of that into Wheelchair Tennis is a proportionate action.
Wheelchair tennis is every bit as exhilarating to watch, and the athletes train every bit as hard. So let's treat them fairly. Give them the same courts, similar funding and similar advertising.
Hell, ditch the invitationals if need be. I love watching those, but there is plenty of able bodied tennis being played.
For time... just expand the schedule. Wimbledon is 13 days. The other grand slams are 15. Rain is one issue, but with the roof now available it is certainly doable. Start earlier, run later. It can be done.
I seriously urge every single person that reads my blog to do something here. Go follow these guys on twitter, and help them show what demand there is to watch them play. Write to the All England Club, to the LTA, the Secretary of State for Sport. This isn't just about hitting a ball around. It's a matter of dignity and respect. Give wheelchair tennis the same status as the rest of the Championship. We need these athletes. They're true role models who take a bad situation and make the most out of it. They display all the courage, determination and grit as Andy or Novak. And they deserve to be accorded just as much respect.