Cardiff tennis courts' pay-to-play scheme criticised and 'not affordable for everyone'

A Tennis Wales poster on a fence describing how to pay-to-play on the court
Tennis courts in Victoria Park, Cardiff, have had a new pay-to-play scheme introduced. Credit: Spencer Vignes

Words by Gracie Richards

The introduction of a new pay-to-play scheme at tennis courts in Cardiff's Victoria Park has attracted criticism from some who believe it makes the facilities less accessible.

The scheme is a part of The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) and Tennis Wales’ capital investment into public parks and tennis courts, with the scheme introduced and operated by Tennis Wales.

At Victoria Park, it now costs players £4.50 per hour to play tennis.

Spencer Vignes, sports writer and author, said" "The lack of consultation between Tennis Wales and the community has left people feeling marginalised and left out of the decision-making process. They did it three years ago and they've done it again, which to me just showed that they didn't listen.” 

Mr Vigness said this would affect people’s perceptions of tennis as a “middle and upper-class sport”.

He said: “It basically rules people out from that first important step of getting them involved. 

"The way they’re going about it is emblematic of the kind of continued privatisation of sports and leisure facilities with little or no consideration, or consultation with the people who use these facilities.

“The message that they're sending out is that, if you've got money, okay, and if you can’t afford it, you can’t play.” 

Hywel Bleasdale has used the courts since his childhood.

He said: "In my opinion, free access to sports is essential within any healthy community.

“Parks are our land, not the land of a company. I feel that it can be a slippery slope when you start restricting who, when, and how people get to use the land.

“£4.50 an hour isn’t affordable for everyone. It’s cheap for middle-class people and people with jobs and think it’s worth it.

“People are making comparisons to other clubs in Cardiff, but thats not what the point of the courts were. The point of the courts was to not have to pay and not to be a part of a club.

“Once you put a barrier up, you’re refusing people straight away.

"I think the principles of a healthy community should not be seen as a cost. They are of value to the community.

"There is an argument that access to sport is firstly educational - especially for children to be able to do things for free - but, also on a wider level. You talk about the health of a community, it's like preventive healthcare. You can almost prevent bad things from happening in the future through simple and cheap things like this."

A council spokesperson said: “The introduction of Tennis Wales’ low-cost entry membership and management scheme ensures there is a sustainable, long-term plan in place to maintain the tennis courts at Victoria Park and five other parks in Cardiff - many of which were in poor or unplayable condition and subject to vandalism, misuse and anti-social behaviour.”

They added: “Any money raised from the introduction of the scheme will be used by Tennis Wales to re-invest in the courts.

“Here in Cardiff, the model has transformed the courts in Heath Park over the last few years, from one with very little tennis activity, into a vibrant tennis hub with over 900 players enjoying the courts.

“A calendar of free trial opportunities, open days and free coaching will be available throughout the year, as well as weekly organised free park tennis sessions for all ages, playing levels and experience where equipment is provided, meaning that people will not need someone to play with or even their own racket to start playing.

ITV Cymru Wales contacted Tennis Wales for a response but did not receive a response.