Roger Draper, 40, studied sports science and recreation management at Loughborough University and won international honours in both rugby league and tennis before starting a career in the business of sport. As CEO of Sport England he led a major review of the £500m spent on sport in the UK. In 2006, he was appointed chief executive of the Lawn Tennis Association, the national governing body of tennis in the UK, and has since overseen a series of radical reforms. Earlier this year he came in for heavy criticism after Britain's Davis Cup team was defeated by Lithuania. Next month, the team will face Turkey, with the losers set to be demoted to the competition's lowest level
Is yours the toughest job in British sport?
It's a bit like being the England football manager - everyone thinks they can do your job better than you can. But I view it as one of the best jobs in sport rather than one of the toughest. You need to keep a balance. When things are going well, you mustn't get too excited and, likewise, when there are lows, you mustn't get too down.
How do you feel when you get attacked in the press?
I think it's part of the territory of being a leader, particularly when you put in place a wholesale transformation. There will always be people who feel marginalised by what's going on. And sport's a funny business. Usually when people leave a company, they go off and do other things, whereas in sport they tend to hang around on the periphery and carp. You've got to accept that people have their own views, but we believe our long-term strategy is the right one.
How did you feel when the British Davis Cup team lost to Lithuania?
I've had better days in my career. Five weeks earlier we were in Australia, with Andy Murray close to being the first British player to win a grand slam event for 76 years, Laura Robson was in the final of the girls' competition, Peter Norfolk had just won the wheelchair final and British tennis was doing fantastically well. Then we had a bad loss against Lithuania and the cynics piled in saying British tennis is terrible and we need to change everything and so on. It was a difficult period because that one element was taken completely out of context. When you look at all the good work going on across the board, you've got to keep a sense of perspective in place.
What will happen if Britain lose to Turkey?
I'm not even contemplating losing to Turkey. We've got a new Davis Cup captain, Leon Smith, and I think he'll bring a lot of energy and motivation to the role. I'm sure we'll beat Turkey, we'll regroup and get focused on the Davis Cup again in 2011. But, as I say, the Davis Cup is just one element.
The British have very high expectations about tennis despite very little history of success. Does that make it difficult for you?
I think too much is focused on Wimbledon. One of our challenges is communicating the breadth of our sport. We've got double the number of adult participants as rugby union and rugby league put together, and we're a much bigger sport in terms of participation than cricket. And tennis isn't that expensive. It's on average £2.50 a week for an adult to join a club, 80p for a junior, 40p for an under-10. There's a lot going on out there and one of our challenges is to dispel some of the myths and change some of the perceptions about the sport. Trying to broaden the appeal and get more people playing is equally as important as winning.
What are the major business changes you've put in place at the LTA?
There's been a huge change in the corporate governance of the LTA in terms of how we're set up. The executive is very accountable to the main board, we've streamlined all the previous committees that used to be in place, we've got independent nonexecutives on the board, and we have a very clear strategy: we've got to grow the sport, and we've got to ensure that we have a high performance environment. If you get more winners and get more people involved in the sport, your income streams go up, you get more money from commercial partners, from government and from events, so you can spend more to enhance the sport. When I took up this job in 2006 I said that to transform any business or any sport, it takes a ten-year period. Of course you need your quick wins but you also need to keep that long-term direction in place.
What are you most proud of so far?
I think the work we're now doing with our 6-10-year-olds is phenomenal. A lot of other countries are now saying what we're doing with the mini tennis framework and our Talent ID system is world class. Of course those 6-, 7-, 8-year-olds aren't going to come through for another ten or 15 years. From a business point of view we've done a lot of good work behind the scenes to make sure that not only do we have good commercial partners, such as Aegon, BNP Paribas, Highland Spring, Lucozade and Nike, but the income streams are set for the next five years at least.
How confident are you that by the end of your ten-year programme, we'll have produced a Wimbledon champion?
We're beginning to see much greater depth coming through. People might say we've always had good juniors, but they've never had the infrastructure, the coaching, the support, the funding that they're getting now. I'm really confident that we will get that success but it's a long process. I was talking to somebody in the pharmaceutical industry the other day and there are parallels in terms of developing a drug - from test tube to product launch is a ten- to 12-year period. And that's the same process we have to go through.
How good are you at tennis?
I'm not too bad. My wife's a tennis coach and my mother-in-law's a tennis coach. And my two kids are mad about tennis. So I can't get away from it!
The Wimbledon Championships begin on 21 June. To find out more about tennis in the UK, go to lta.org.uk
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