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“We need to prove to Sport England that padel is a fully- established sport with the requisite number of members and facilities and that a proper development structure is in place”

However, despite the set up costs, more courts are on the horizon. Four courts are due to be installed at the David Lloyd Centres in Chigwell, Essex and Raynes Park in south west London. A tennis club in Warwickshire has plan- ning permission for a further two courts and there is a self-funded scheme to pro- vide facilities at a club in north London. At the Ellesse Padel Academy, Vann points out that to play the game you don’t necessarily have to join a club. “Probably 30 per cent of our revenue at Huddersfield comes through pay and play for padel,” he says. According to Vann, court hire costs £12 for a 45-minute session while social ses- sions on Tuesday and Thursday evenings are priced at £7 for 90 minutes. Early learners are also encouraged to try out the sport too. “It’s an ideal game for youngsters, as the racquet skills that you get in padel can translate straight into tennis,” says Vann. “There’s a thriving junior section at the club and a number of members recently participated at the World Junior Champi- onships in Mellila, Spain,” he says. Tony Lee sees Huddersfield as a perfect example of how tennis traditionalists can be won over by the Latin interloper. “The club committee was ardently against the introduction of padel; fighting it at all costs,” he says. “Now those very same people are the biggest supporters.”

INTERNATIONAL SUCCESS Like every other credible sport, padel world championships are hosted on a bi-annual basis.

The 2010 version took place in Mexico and the UKPF sent out a 14-strong team, finishing 10th out of 13 nations. The fed- eration also prepared squads for a European Championship in Portugal and the recent World Juniors.

Young padel players at a coaching session at Ellesse Padel Academy in Huddersfield. Padel helps with eye/ball coordination

Only four countries have won world championship medals since the first men’s championships in 1992: Spain, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. Spain is the current reigning men’s and women’s champion. In the UK, former tennis professional Richard Brooks is regarded as one of our leading padel players. Top international tennis players Andy Murray, Gael Monfils, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have also been known to swing a padel racquet.

HARNESSING OPPORTUNITIES Padel England was founded in March this year with the aim of developing a struc- ture for the sport in the UK. The governing body’s president and director is Erik De Wilt – a Dutch-born former hockey player. De Wilt believes that by June 2012 there could be as many as 10,000 registered padel players in the UK. He also thinks up to 40 courts will be operational next year, including padel’s own national train- ing centre in central London – the sport’s equivalent of Roehampton or Wimbledon. Working with five manufacturers, De Wilt is determined to provide courts at cost price, across the country, with some components built in the UK. Padel Eng- land – a non-profit organisation – will also part fund these courts through invest- ment from its board members.

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“There are some sponsors but we are happy to invest our own money too,” De Wilt says.

According to Lee, the UKPF’s mission statement, launched 18-24 months ago wasn’t quite as bullish as Padel England’s. “We hoped to build 20 courts in the first

year, but found that a challenge,” he says. “The 40 courts forecast by Padel England would certainly create a better infrastruc- ture and dramatically increase the number of people playing the sport.” De Wilt says: “Until we can prove to Sport England that padel is a fully-estab- lished sport with the requisite number of members and a proper development structure in place, including a schools pro- gramme and qualified coaches, then this is the way we must go. “We believe the UK Federation has similar aims. We are not asking people to pick one side or another.”

According to De Wilt, Padel England already co-ordinates a development net- work that provides a pathway for aspiring players to progress from schools and clubs to the national squad.

In addition, the association offers infor- mation about the game, runs coaching courses, tournaments from county to in- ternational standard, distributes results and promotes the sport at all levels. The issue now is to ensure that the game is a good fit into the English sporting culture.

Trevor Baxter is a freelance journalist Issue 4 2011 © cybertrek 2011

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