Cork club abandons 'tennis whites only' rule to encourage participation

Bishopstown Lawn Tennis Club has dropped the rule, which was in place since the 1870s and is enforced strictly by the likes of Wimbledon, describing it as 'elitist'
Cork club abandons 'tennis whites only' rule to encourage participation

Conor Twomey, head coach, removes the 'tennis whites on court please' sign which has been in place for decades at Bishopstown Lawn Tennis Club in Cork in the presence of club members Ben O'Connell, Milo Murray, Daire and Isabella Lyons and Alex Byrne. Picture: Denis Minihane.

An Irish tennis club has called game, set and match on a ‘tennis whites only’ clothing rule in the hope of encouraging more people to take up the sport here.

Bishopstown Lawn Tennis Club in Cork City has removed its ‘tennis whites only’ sign which has been in place since its foundation some 40 years ago.

Its removal has been discussed on and off by club officials for the past decade before agreement was finally reached recently to scrap the rule.

The club’s head coach, Conor Twomey, said the time had come for the sport to abandon an outdated rule he believes has put many people off participating in the sport.

“It was viewed as an elitist thing," he said.

We are a community club and we need to move away from anything that could be perceived as elitist. And things like this rule are a barrier to participation and we need to get rid of as many barriers to participation as we can.

“The message from our club is that it’s not about how you look or what you wear. We just want you to just play the game. And the more people playing the game, the better chance you have of being successful."

He called on other Irish tennis clubs who still insist on players wearing all white to consider scrapping the rule too.

The rule has been part of the sport’s dress code since the 1870s Victoria era, when sweat stains were considered “improper and unsightly”.

'The message from our club is that it’s not about how you look or what you wear. We just want you to just play the game,' says head coach Conor Twomey. Picture: Denis Minihane
'The message from our club is that it’s not about how you look or what you wear. We just want you to just play the game,' says head coach Conor Twomey. Picture: Denis Minihane

It was believed white clothes, which reflect heat, could help players sweat less and could also make the sweat less visible.

Wimbledon, a tournament steeped in history and tradition, enforces the rule strongly.

Flamboyant tennis legend Andre Agassi, famous for his flashy on-court gear, refused to play Wimbledon from 1988 to 1990, in part because the dress code prevented him from wearing the clothes he wanted to.

Roger Federer reprimanded

In 2013, one of the sport’s greatest players, Roger Federer, was reprimanded for wearing orange-soled white shoes at Wimbledon while a year later, fellow tennis legend Martina Navratilova said tournament officials had “gone too far” when they told her that her blue-striped skirt was in breach of the dress code.

Mr Twomey said it’s fine for Wimbledon to enforce the rule, given its heritage and history, but he said there is no need for it in smaller clubs in Ireland.

Bishopstown Lawn Tennis Club has more than 300 members, and a high-performance programme that has helped produce players like Rebecca O’Mahony, from Monkstown, who is ranked number one at under 16 level.

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