Outgoing Tennis Canada CEO aims to ace growth for women’s game

Vancouver –

Tennis Canada CEO Michael Downey says there is still work to be done to grow the game as he prepares to resign.

Sports fans want to see women play, and national organizations have a role to play in making that happen, he said.

Downey, who announced in February that she would be retiring at the end of 2023, said, “I think we are on the cusp of tremendous growth across women’s sport.

“And in the past, years ago,[television]networks might have been thinking, ‘I’m supposed to do that, so I need to wear women.’ They’re doing it now because they know, and it’s really motivating.

Since taking over as CEO in 2004, Downey has made significant changes to the Canadian tennis scene, including skyrocketing Canadian tennis players in the world rankings.

Mississauga, Ontario’s Bianca Andreescu won the US Open in 2019, while Montreal’s Felix Auger-Aliassime won four titles on the ATP Tour last year. The Canadian men’s team won his first Davis Cup title in 2022, and on Saturday, the women’s team qualified for his Cup final against Billie Jean King in November.

“Canadian tennis is taken very seriously on the world stage,” Downey said. “Over the years, I have asked many counterparts, CEOs of other tennis federations, if Canada came out of nowhere and was able to really develop strong singles talent. rice field.

“I think the rest of the world is saying, ‘This is a winter sports country, but we’re doing very well at tennis.'” And it’s great to see that. “

During his first term, Downey opened a National Tennis Center in Montreal and regional training centers in Vancouver and Toronto.

These programs not only helped develop many of the Canadians who now dominate the Tour, but they also raised the bar for academies and coaches across the country.

“I think when Milos[Raonic]and Jeannie[Bouchard]made their breakthrough, they inspired Leila[Fernandez]Dennis[Shapovalov]Bianca[Andreescu]Felix[Auger-Aliassime]. It’s happening now. It’s about being there,” Downey said.

“Today, 10, 11 and 12 year olds believe they can succeed. They have to work hard, but they believe they can succeed. Success breeds success.”

Canadian players say the game still has room to grow, especially when it comes to women’s tennis.

Equity sports go beyond tennis and beyond Canada’s borders, said Fernandez, a 20-year-old from Laval, Quebec, who is currently ranked No. 50 in the WTA singles rankings.

Speaking at a qualifier for the Billie Jean King Cup in Vancouver on Friday, she said, “I love having so many people in the stadium, but more children, more women supporting us. I know it should.

“And I think that’s the first step, to encourage women to get involved in women’s games in WTA games, tennis but also WNBA, soccer, or hockey anywhere in the world. “I think if we can get more women into the crowd, we can attract more people and make tennis even more popular.”

Shapovalov asked for equal pay in tennis last month after the Richmond Hill, Ontario native compared his experience on the ATP Tour to that of his girlfriend Mirjam Björklund, a player on the WTA Tour. .

Shapovalov, who finished 24th on the men’s tour, was seen in the Players’ Tribune video.

“Why is it different? It doesn’t make sense.”

In March, Tennis Canada announced Game. Set. Equity. The initiative aims to increase women’s participation in the sport while making it safe and inclusive for women and developing women’s tennis commercially.

Downey said he plans to remain as the program’s ambassador after retirement.

“We’re not doing this just because it’s the right thing to do on paper. We’re a stronger organization for that,” he said.

“And we think that will happen in tennis as more women, more girls play and stay in the sport, and more women take leadership roles. It will make a difference.”

This report by the Canadian Press was first published on April 18, 2023.

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