If in France, the padel is expanding, what about our dear English neighbor? Who better than Peter Vann, the President of the British Padel Federation to answer questions from Kristina Clément? State of play of the English paddle:
Can you tell how you discovered padel and how you became President of the British Padel Federation?
I discovered paddle tennis in 2002 when I saw paddle courts installed at La Manga Club, a well-known tennis and golf resort in Murcia, Spain. At that time, I was involved in the life of the Huddersfield Tennis and Squash Club (HLTSC) as a Volunteer President.
As a tennis player throughout my life (and squash too), I then started playing padel every time I went down to Spain - often literally I got off the plane and headed directly to the padel court to play. I found this sport very entertaining, technically very easy compared to tennis or squash, and very sociable with double format like tennis - but much more difficult mentally as it is not a power sport, but more patience and tactics.
In 2005, I discovered that a British paddle championship was organized at the Rye tennis club in Sussex and I went there to participate. This short was only one of two (very inaccessible) existing padel courts in the UK. A Spaniard who lived in Rye was trying to promote the sport from here.
It was a one-day event with very short format matches. Of the dozen or so teams registered, there were, to my surprise, several Spanish pairs who had made the Spanish trip to participate in the tournament.
I learned from one of them that the padel was experiencing a very important expansion in their country to become the second most played sport (after football) with more than 4 million regular participants - amazing when tennis in Spain only 250.000 regular players.
It was a key moment, surely this sport had a future here in the UK.
In 2006, I made a proposal to the board of my club HLTSC to build padel courts on 2 old grass courts unused and heavy maintenance. At the time there were not many other developments going on at the club for immediate action. But during the next 4 years, as I was playing more padel and had been able to introduce this sport to other Huddersfield members, there was enough momentum to move forward on this project. Then with the combination of private funding, help from interested members, a Spanish coach who had moved to Huddersfield, in addition to a grant from local 20K communities, the HLTSC board gave its agreement to start the project. In March 2011, we installed two padel courts in my club HLTSC. A first in the UK, which we were able to promote / talk to everyone who was ready to listen to us - and also the BBC 1 TV spoke about our sport and our realization during Wimbledon that year.
I had inadvertently become the padel's spokesman in the UK and was again surprised by the continued and enduring interest that always ends at my door as a result of what has been achieved at the HLTSC.
The following year, a dedicated padel club opened at Canary Wharf, London, and then the David Lloyd Group (DLL - Editor's Note: Major Sports Complex Chain in England -) began a serious long-term investment in Padel in the UK United by setting up padel courts in its largest center in Essex. Several other DLL clubs now have padel, and others have planned to integrate it.
In 2012, the Padel British Tour has been set up and a UK player ranking system has been created - each of these tournaments are currently attracting more than 100 participants. For the next 3 years I represented an English team at an international tournament in Spain, which allowed me to discover that other EU countries like Holland, Germany, Sweden and Portugal were all to develop the sport from a low participation base, just like the UK and this allowed me to do a lot of European friends through the sport.
During this event in 2013, I was approached by Tom Murray - who initiated the Padel British Tour and asked me to join the organization to become the governing body for Padel in the UK ( at that time 3 people on this committee: myself as president, Tim Edwards vice president and Tom Murray as director of marketing and development.Since others have joined this steering committee).
Since then have followed the affiliation to the International Padel Federation, and recognition by the World Padel Tour, plus what has been a meteoric rise in popularity here. There are now 16 clubs and 32 paddle courts in the UK with many other ongoing projects.
As a player, I regularly participate in the British Padel Tour and I am currently at the 20th place in the UK in the open ranking system.
* Padel is growing in many countries in Europe (outside Spain) as well as in Portugal, Italy, Sweden and France. Do you feel the same trend for the UK?
Yes quite ! The padel is growing in the UK as fast or faster than some countries. Sweden is the leading country because today it has the most courts in Europe outside of Spain. I think the UK is similar to Germany, Holland. Portugal is far ahead of the fact that they have attached the padel to the Tennis Federation which has helped a lot ... France too is far ahead for the same reasons. Growth in the UK is on the rise and significantly
* Are there many new club projects in the pipes?
Yes, currently, there are many, which could be a long list to mention. In the South Country in Christchurch, there is a demand that has been filed to install 3 courts in a tennis club
in West London, in a very upscale country club, in Stoke Park, there are 2 / 3 short scheduled (this is a project that has existed for a long time but has resurfaced recently)
Also in West London, there is another club that is planning to set up a court, then in Essex, there is a short 2 project in a private club, also 2 extra shorts in the David Lloyds club in this same region. In the north, there is a planned project in Staffordshire, further north in Scotland, there are 3 indoor courts which are under construction at this time plus a short outdoor, and other projects ...
To sum up, this year there will be between 15 and 20 additional padel courts, when today the UK counts exactly 32 short (+ 50% increase). At the end 2016, we should have 50 short in total, because these are already well advanced projects.
* What do you think could help Padel grow in the UK?
Social networks are the element to expose the sport because the biggest challenge for us as for Germany, Sweden, etc ... is that no one knows what the padel. The fastest way to connect people and let people know what the padel is is through social media. The #PadelYES campaign has been a great success so far.
The interview with Jamie Murray (note: brother of Andy Murray, player of double winner of the Davis Cup with England and the Open of Australia) has already had more 10.000 views. How can you have an audience like this outside of social media? Twitter and Facebook are the means to disseminate information.
* Padel is not recognized today as a sport in your country.
Indeed, it is a challenge for the British Padel Federation to have it recognized, and to have it recognized without being linked to another sport. Because we do not want to be attached to tennis as is the case in France or Portugal.
Because the LTA (Lawn Tennis Association, equivalent of the FFT in England) is not interested in us and we are not interested in them. They have much more important things to do than take care of a minority sport like the padel.
The main benefit of being recognized as a sport is not having access to grants but that local authorities understand that it is a sport they can support / encourage, so that they can work with interested people to invest in their transferor, providing land. There are many, many tennis courts in England that are not used and that could easily be turned into padel courts.
This is our key goal for us. We started working on this subject by having regular contact with Secretary of State for Sport Tracy Crouch and a member of my team contacted Jennie Price who is President of "Sport England". We will have a meeting with her, show her where we are and ask her how it is possible to speed up what is now a ridiculously long procedure for a new sport and especially when this sport is practiced by 8 millions of people worldwide.
* What are the goals of the Bristish Padel Federation for 2016?
A higher level of participation because the participation of the British Padel circuit has increased steadily BUT when you go to places like Scotland, Huddersfield or Birmingham, the participation rate is low because of a weak Spanish community unlike London , where the Spaniards are very numerous and come to play the tournaments.
Lower participation in weaker / intermediate players (Category B & C tournaments). The best players (Cat A) will still be able to play in the big clubs, but smaller clubs with 1 or 2 courts can also organize a tournament on a day to attract players and play them.
Our objective is this one: to increase the rate of participation in tournament.
Kristina Clément - Padel Magazine
Franck Binisti discovers the padel at the Pyramid Club in 2009 in the Paris region. Since then padel is part of his life. You often see him touring France by going to cover the big French paddle events.