By Adnan Sipra
The president of The Gambia Tennis Association GTA Saul Frazer met with the Bahrain Tennis Federation (BTF) general secretary recently in a consultation he hoped will help develop a comprehensive plan to grow the game in his country.
“My agenda for the meeting was simple: to seek clarity on how it all started in the tennis context in Bahrain,” Frazer, 45, who arrived in the kingdom on Wednesday, added. “I asked him for advice on what we should do in The Gambia to popularise the sport and he was extremely forthcoming and very generous with his time.”
Frazer was elected to his post last November and has already undertaken several measures in partnership with the GTA’s board to improve the game’s infrastructure and increase the popularity of tennis in The Gambia.
His meeting with Al Rowaie had defined a blueprint that could be followed by the GTA in The Gambia, he explained.
“He outlined a number of points that could prove instrumental in getting things really going for tennis in The Gambia,” Frazer continued.
Al Rowaie told the GDN that, apart from extending advice on how to popularise tennis in the West African nation, where football has a mass following, he also extended an invitation to Frazer to send young Gambian players to participate in upcoming International Tennis Federation (ITF) under-18 tournaments that will be hosted by the kingdom later this year and beyond.
“I told him that it would be a pleasure for us to include his country’s age-level players in those tournaments, he added. “In addition, I offered some pointers about how to go about publicising tennis in The Gambia. One of the key moves they could make is by taking it to schools and attracting young children.”
Frazer, who was born in The Gambia but grew up in Sweden before going on to earn a business degree in England, hopes to ensure, during his tenure, that tennis emerges as another alternative for his country’s sports-mad youth, who are currently fixated on football. An all-round sportsman, he, himself, is a Fifa-approved football agent.
“Football is huge in The Gambia,” he explained. “And, this year, it became even bigger because we made it to the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time ever. I want to see tennis become just as popular, if not more. I believe it can happen.”
One of the first things he did, as soon as he assumed charge of his post, was engage an international tennis consultant.
“He did a comprehensive study of the state of the game in The Gambia and compiled a very thorough report, with many recommendations on how to go about things if we want to help the game grow quickly in the country,” Frazer said.
The consultant’s recommendations had already been incorporated into a long-term plan that the GTA board has already set into action, he added.
“We are very ambitious and keen to take the sport in a new direction in our country,” Frazer continued. “It was in a very dormant state before I took over last year. And we’re very keen to learn from other countries in the region about how they’re going about things; we’re open to collaborations with different organisations, which is the reason I’m in Bahrain.
“I see Bahrain as a gateway to the Middle East as far as The Gambia tennis is concerned. Bahrain has held international events here; interest in the game has grown steadily in the kingdom over the past few years. It is the first country I have visited in my capacity as the GTA head because the manner in which the BTF has gone about growing the game in a population that counts football, basketball and handball as favourites is something that I think can be emulated in my country.”
Popular British tennis coach, Joseph Henriques, who has been running an academy in the kingdom since 2010, counts Frazer amongst his close friends and was instrumental in arranging his meeting with Al Rowaie, as well as the GTA president’s visits to various tennis clubs after his meeting with the BTF general secretary.
“Saul had a good meeting with Fuad,” he told the GDN. “He learnt about the governance of tennis in Bahrain and, also, how to integrate all the sporting infrastructure under one umbrella organisation – as it is done here where every sporting organisation and activity falls under the General Sports Authority (GSA).”
In addition, the two talked at great length about possible, continued collaborations between the tennis associations of both countries and holding friendly matches between junior national teams as frequently as possible, Henriques added.
“Fuad also detailed what it was like for Bahrain to host the Davis Cup Asia/Oceania Group IV matches last year and explained how it really put the kingdom on the world tennis map,” he continued.
Meanwhile, Al Rowaie said that he stressed to Frazer that, along with building the sport up from the grassroots, the GTA would also have to concentrate on organising training courses for coaches.
“That will be key!” he said. “The better the coaches are, the more their young players will improve. The GTA will have to ensure that their coaches get the different, requisite ITF certifications for every coaching level. The results, thereafter, will speak for themselves.”