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Pierre ‘The Bear’ Lamarche: “Should Tennis Canada Be Fair?”

Pierre ‘The Bear’ Lamarche: “Should Tennis Canada Be Fair?”

Written by: Pierre Lamarche

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***Pierre Lamarche has been an outspoken proponent of Canadian tennis and how the sport should have a major place in the Canadian sport landscape. He believes this lofty ambition can only be achieved through the combination of success on the international professional competitive scene, with the required domestic infrastructure and a true partnership between Tennis Canada and the tennis private sector.

His comments are often taken as critical by those who feel targeted by his questions. His background as a player, coach, and leader [see background] in the sport and coaching industry warrants that his views, which are shared by many others, be given due process by anyone [or organization] who really wants to help Canadian Tennis achieve the proper national status it deserves in the sport community.

His ONcourt series of editorials specifically provides thoughts for reflection on how to make Canada a tennis superpower.***

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Are All Canadian Junior Players playing on a level field?

One of the major perception amongst Canadian junior players, their parents and their coaches is that quite often decisions made by the responsible organizations [read national and provincial associations], affect negatively the development opportunities of the concerned players. The response from the provincial and national associations is that a certain criteria has been followed. Unfortunately, the perception comes from the fact that many decisions are based on unclear criteria. Even more disturbing, is when this criteria is not followed. These decisions which are often subjective, in nature, create a ripple effect which has far greater repercussions than the ones resulting from the original decision.

Canadian players in the WTA and ATP do not have that problem. Entries in professional events are based on the organizations ranking system. For these players, the only subjective decisions are selection to the Davis Cup and Fed Cup teams and the granting of Wild Cards. The issue on Wild Card allocation is a major contention point because once again we see subjective decisions made on objective criteria.

Unfortunately, this clear cut process for entry to pro events is not so transparent at the junior level and specifically when it comes to “Tennis Canada’s Order of Merit” for international competition. Let’s take the recent “Tennis Canada Order of Merit” submitted for the Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl taking place in Florida. Given Tennis Canada’s philosophy of giving international touring assistance mostly to players that are in their “system”, these year-end competitions are important for “non-system” players as it is one of the few affordable international competitions they can access. Important because this is where these players, who do not have access to Tennis Canada’s touring support, can get the needed competitive international results which then can warrant their seeding at nationals, their selection to national teams or their proper place in the “Tennis Canada Order of Merit” for international competitions.

Note: System and non–system players refer to players who opt for Tennis Canada programs versus those who opt for alternative ones.

The recent “Tennis Canada Order of Merit“ for these Florida international competitions was based as in previous years on the following:

  1. Significant international results/performances
  2. Significant national results/performances
  3. If the above two are not relevant than the Rogers Ranking is the deciding factor

Note from The Bear: The Rogers Ranking system was instituted without the due diligence required for such an important “objective system for rankings and selections”. The Rogers Ranking system goes against Tennis Canada’s own tennis development philosophy of promoting competition. This system will be altered significantly in the next few years. The question is since it is flawed, should it be used for seeding at Nationals or order of merit in international competition as it affects the career of kids. [More on this subject in a future installment]. As of now, Rogers Rankings are part of the criteria for the Tennis Canada Order of Merit.

The problem with the above criteria for the “Tennis Canada Order of Merit” is that significant international results or performances can only be attained basically if you are in the Tennis Canada system, if your parents are wealthy or if they have the ability to mortgage their future. Even then, if you have opted out of the Tennis Canada system, you will probably find yourself behind their players whether it’s warranted or not. You can see why it is hard to opt out of the system, why would a parent turn down money for training, touring and a preferred spot on the “Tennis Canada Order of Merit”? The answer is they think the option is better.

Of interest, at the recent ACE Cup in Burlington, Ontario where the top players from Quebec and Ontario played in an Under 12 [as of 2012] competition, there was a total of 16 girls which receive training and coaching assistance from Tennis Canada, the OTA or the Quebec Tennis Federation. Of the four semi-finalists in the girls’ event, only one player belonged to a subsidized program [Tennis Canada]. She was a student at a private tennis Academy last year, like two other of the semi-finalists, before being recruited by Tennis Canada for their program. The last semi-finalist was a girl coached by her uncle. These results of course lead to a multitude of questions relating to the respective quality of the player’s development plan and whether it is best for them to train in their Academy or club, rather than a subsidized program. Another more important question is whether players opting out of the system but performing better should be entitled to the same financial support and equity in decision making processes offered to system players?

The issue here is whether there is a bias towards non-system players when establishing “Tennis Canada Order of Merit” for international competition. If there is, it forces parents to be in a system which might not be as good for their child’s development but which at least insures access on a preferred basis to international competition. If this is true, it is completely unacceptable, goes against athletes’ rights and his contrary to the principles of sport in this country. In fact, it puts Tennis Canada in direct competition with the country’s tennis schools and academies. That competition is quite uneven since Tennis Canada subsidizes only the players in their programs and gives them priority in list of merits. Over 50 Canadians applied through the national association for participation in these two events. For Tennis Canada development personnel, this is only one of many international competitive opportunities for their system players. For many other kids, it’s their only opportunity. They certainly have the right to be treated fairly and to equal opportunity [something called the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom].

I have taken two examples; there are more, which show the bias towards non-system players in the recent “Tennis Canada Order of Merit” for Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl competitions. I am not using the names of the players but the facts as we know them are correct.

U14 competitor girl:

  1. Former National Champion U 14, 2010
  2. #3 in summer Nationals U 14, 2011
  3. Qualified for U 16, 18 Summer Nationals
  4. #2 in Rogers ranking for U 14
  5. #26 in Rogers Ranking for all Canadian Women players

This player ranked #2, although receiving information that selection had been made through the Rogers ranking, was by passed in “The Tennis Canada Order of Merit” by players with Rogers ranking of #3, #4, #6, #9, #10, and #13.  Last year she won the Nationals U 14, this year she finished third ahead of many of the girls on the list. By the way, she is not in the Tennis Canada system.

U14 competitor boy:

  1. Former National Junior Champion U 14 in 2010
  2. Finalist in U 16 Indoor Nationals, 2011
  3. #1 Rogers Ranking U 14
  4. Won his singles matches representing Canada in World Group U 14 Junior team competition

This player was part of the Tennis Canada system for three years but decided to leave the program this fall. Does this justify recommending three other players ahead of him in “The Tennis Canada Order of Merit”? These players of course are ranked behind him in the Rogers Ranking?

I had decided to curtail my comments on the Tennis Canada system because I really felt that they were falling on deaf ears, perceived as personal attacks, used to position me as a discontented individual rather than being a catalyst for creating a meaningful dialogue between Tennis Canada, their provincial associations and their tennis development centers. These views are shared by many, but few will publicly say them for fear of upsetting the holders of the purse. But this issue of “Tennis Canada’s Order of Merit” is something that infers a certain lack of integrity or incompetency by those making the choices as well as a certain responsibility by those in charge. I cannot believe that the Board of Tennis Canada would sanction such a process which is contrary to the values and principles espoused in Canadian sport and society.

If there is an explanation to the above, I am open to revisit the issue but based on the information gathered there seems to be a flawed process in place which affects young non-system Canadian tennis players, their access to international tournaments, and as a result their seedings at Nationals, their draws at Nationals, their selection to teams, sponsorship opportunities and possibly their future options for University.

If there is any truth in what I am alleging then leadership of Tennis Canada, especially its board should look at what is happening and take appropriate action. Forget creating another task force, also known as a maneuver to placate the Council of the Provinces which really are the ones who have the power to change the direction of development in this country. The issues have been there for years, the decision was made to overlook them. It is time to do something.

I am sure the people responsible did not create this situation knowingly but their arrogance in believing that they know what is right and their lack of openness in dealing with different viewpoints has led them to this situation which reeks of discrimination and unfairness. The future of children is at stake.

PLEASE TELL ME I AM WRONG!

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5 Responses to “Pierre ‘The Bear’ Lamarche: “Should Tennis Canada Be Fair?””

  1. 1
    Fed Up Tennis Dad Says:

    I have a child in an academy as well. There is a problem just as you have indicated. We all see it and it is time to do something about it. Isn’t it time to contact the Minister of Sport? Afterall when Tennis Canada, which is the governing body for the sport in our country, has a corrupt or deficient process the Minister needs to intervene. This organization really is out of control and seems to have no accountability. Hopefully that will embarrass some and change the board to be fair to all Canadian players irrespective of their tennis affiliation. Other than that, let’s ban together and hire a law firm. I think it is warranted. Our child’s career depends on them playing to the best of their ability AND having a fair opportunity to international competition and sponsorship. If not they are being robbed and short changed. It seems discriminatory to me. Do the Tevlin’s and Cinnamon’s, and the like, know that they are supporting an organization that lacks integrity and transparency? Can they afford to be associated with an organization that proves to be in contradiction to the Sporting philosophy here in Canada? What I am saying is that if we want to change this, the time for talking is nearing the end. There is a strong current of dissatisfaction among us parents. Action must be taken. If no action, then just shut up and swallow it just like a “good Canadian”.

  2. 2
    Tennis Lover Says:

    Pierre, I agree 100% with you, though this problem should have been discussed much earlier than now. I’d like to suggest another article for you to discuss: In the subsidized program of Tennis Canada, the trainers that lead it, in Ontario, are incompetent. In a short period of time, two of the top players from that program were forced to stop playing tennis due to trauma and injuries. One, was forced to stop playing for a period of 4 months, and another has just recently stopped playing due to trauma. Nobody controls this program, and the people that do control this program are not held responsible. Even when trainers receive million-dollar contracts, they are still irresponsible to what occurs in the program. As well, many people agree with your articles and ideas, but many don’t know what to do about it. If you could give some suggestions as to what could be done, it would be much more effective and we could see some changes.

  3. 3
    Pierre ‘The Bear’ Lamarche: “See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil” | oncourt.ca Says:

    [...] my last editorial “Are All Canadian Junior Players playing on a level field?” I finished the article by saying: “I am sure the people responsible did not create this situation [...]

  4. 4
    george Says:

    Pierre, you are 100%right This is so evident in Manitoba.So many young players are quitting the game they loved so much only because the governing system failed them.

  5. 5
    Tammy Chung Says:

    I lost 30 lbs in 3 months and was still eating carbs!

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