Is Tennis a Snobbish Sport?
If this question was asked a couple of decades back, the answer would have been a definite yes. But this is the twenty-first century and a lot of things are not as straightforward as they used to be.
As a result, when you ask this question today, a debate is bound to ensue. To simplify things, this article will attempt to answer this question beyond every iota of doubt.
To begin, we will have to discuss the sociology of tennis. Sociology is a term used to describe social and cultural life. Hence, the sociology of tennis will discuss the social and cultural life of tennis players.
Definition of Terms
Sociology is the way of life that people unconsciously create as a result of participation in a group or society. According to Coakley, tennis is a sub-culture of society because they are given special meaning by particular people.
They have their own set of ideas and beliefs and are connected across different spheres of life including religion, education, economy, family, politics, and the media.
Snob or snobby on the other hand is a term used to describe a person who believes that there is a correlation between the worth of a human being and social status or wealth.
It generally refers to people who feel superior over people with lower educational or social standards. Hence, a snobby sport can be defined as a sport that consists of individuals who feel better than others. It may be other sports, players, or game viewers.
Tennis was Created as a Snobbish Sport
Social exclusion in the game of tennis (Snobbish tennis) has a long history. It can be traced back to the formative years of the sport. The characteristic snobbish nature of the sport has been a defining attribute of the game since its’ inception.
Initially, even middle-class players were not allowed to play tennis. It was during the interwar years when the price of tennis dropped that clubs opened their doors to middle-class players and their values.
This move slightly dropped the level of prestige associated with the club. The inclusion of middle-class players in tennis clubs could not destroy the incessant competition for status by members, rather, it made the process more intense and complex.
In the earliest decades of tennis, the competition between players was essentially a social one. The winners of this struggle determined who, how, and where the game was played.
This is why a lot of emphasis was placed on dress code and behavioral conduct. The major reason why the snobbish nature of tennis still persisted is that there was an unequal balance of power.
According to Coakley, the game of tennis was characterized by heavy social class divisions. As a facilitative feature to aid the popularity of the game, the game was constructed to allow middle and upper-class players alone to participate.
No room was made for players of the lower class division who were interested in participating in the sport. At the time, the social clubs built by tennis clubs were a means by which men and women enhance their social status.
Behavioral changes were evident among individuals who moved into these tennis clubs.
The clubs imposed restraints in behavioral conduct on their members. They promoted the exercise of self-restraint and sportsmanship and marked members as individuals of higher status.
It wasn’t until the twentieth century that a shift was made from social status to professionalism. Television, corporate sponsors, and political movements were the major drivers of the switch in the focus of tennis games.
Tennis in the 90s
This article will focus on tennis in Britain. Britain is a major stakeholder in the game of tennis and as a result, they have always felt a form of ownership of the game. This is what resulted in the snobbish nature that characterized earlier tennis games.
When the Premier tennis tournament began, Britain performed terribly. The players whom the men of status deemed fit to represent them performed poorly in tournaments. The tournaments were held annually and Britain performed poorly each year.
This brought the snobbishness of the game into question on an annual basis. In a bid to vent off claims of social exclusion as a cause of the poor performance in tournaments. The blame was placed on the lack of funding and the absence of good coaches.
In response to these complaints, funding was made available to tennis clubs by the lawn tennis association (LTA) through the profits from the Wimbledon championships. The largest portion of their funding, however, went into the design of high-class tennis clubs.
This further aided the dominance of hierarchy and status claims. Thus promoting the snobbish nature of the sport and proof that tennis was indeed a snobbish sport in the earlier days. New facilities were constructed in clubs and schemes were developed to encourage children to participate in the game.
Tennis clubs are also the main locations where top-ranking tennis competitions were played, hence the allocation was justified and more investment was made into tennis clubs. This went on between the 1980s and 90s.
Politics and the Change in the Sociology of Tennis
The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) focused more on funding tennis clubs and coaches. Once tennis clubs and coaches were sufficiently provided, it was recorded by Collins that the LTA went on to focus on the issue of social exclusion in the game of tennis.
This change of focus was majorly due to the fact that “equality” had become a major political issue and the central government at the time became more interested in sports
as a means of securing equality for all.
The standard of elite players became of social, cultural, economic, and political importance. As a result, efforts were made to completely remove or disguise the issue of social exclusion associated with the game.
The sport was then seen as a means to vent off juvenile delinquency, to regenerate urban areas, and provide employment. Hence, the LTA made it a goal to remove barriers preventing the participation of particular groups in the game of tennis. Source
As a result, the funding of the LTA was directed towards the opening of tennis doors to the most economically deprived sections of society and children.
According to the LTA, in the year 1999, the objective of social inclusion was first made with the aim of ensuring that whoever wanted to participate in the game could play.
Clubs were coerced to offer high-quality training and junior development programs to all interested without demanding adherence to dress codes. Despite the effort of the LTA to destroy the issue of social exclusion (snobby tennis), the change was resisted by many tennis clubs.
These clubs were independently organized and could not be controlled by the LTA.
As a result, only voluntary run tennis clubs were supported by the funding of LTA and they became the target for major development proposals.
In 2003, Steven Wells in an attempt to describe British tennis said “British tennis is crap.
It’s a sporting Chernobyl. It’s a smug, sterile, monocultural, quasi-fascists, casually racists, elitists, snob-ridden, blazer buggered, apartheid crippled disaster area. It makes golf
look like the Notting Hill carnival”.
This statement was made 17 years ago and a lot has changed since. As a result, when asked if tennis is a snobbish sport today, a debate will ensue rather than a straightforward affirmation.
Today, the social exclusivity of tennis is not as evident as it used to be. Although members of a higher class are more likely to get involved in tennis, their social status is not regarded within the club.
The status of members within a tennis club today does not entirely depend on social status. Hence, it can be said that tennis is no longer a snobbish sport.
Furthermore, the codes of conduct that were formulated by members of the upper and middle class do not pose a barrier to lower class members today.
The differences in behavioral conduct between members from different classes of society are not as obvious today as they were in the past.
According to Robert, social exclusivity still exists today in the game of tennis. But the means and ways by which members segregate themselves within the club is different from what was seen in the earlier days of the game of tennis.
This article focused on the question: Is tennis a snobbish sport. Based on a historical assessment of the sport, it was revealed that tennis was once a snobbish sport. However, the barriers that were once in place have been removed.
Today Tennis is played by people of all backgrounds and social levels. People who still argue that tennis is snobbish today are looking at the sport from the financial aspect. The cost of taking up tennis as a sport is still relatively expensive.
The change in the nature of the sport is yet to affect the price tag but it has affected the players involved. Today, tennis is a game for all.