The Lawn Tennis Association has been urged to appoint a BAME representative to its board by the chairman of a Parliamentary group set up to promote the sport.
Toby Perkins MP was responding to an open letter from LTA chief executive Scott Lloyd in which Lloyd admitted that "we haven't done enough" to foster racial diversity and promised to accelerate recruitment of BAMEs. In a social-media post, Perkins wrote: "Great. So who will be the first black person elected to the LTA board, and when?"
Speaking to Telegraph Sport, Perkins, the chair of the all-party Parliamentary tennis group. said that a more diverse management group would promote organic change.
"The first stage of this is recognising that you're failing," he said. "The LTA appears to be doing that, so that's great. The next question is, 'What are you going to do about it?' The fact that there are such poor levels of representation across the LTA board, council, and workforce is an alarm call in itself.
Perkins, the MP for Chesterfield, added: "The more you reflect a more diverse set-up, the more those questions start to be asked. If you have a group of middle-aged white men going out and asking why we are failing, that is a start, but if you appoint people of diverse racial background then these issues get raised at board meetings."
There are no BAME people on the LTA's 12-person board, nor among the seven executives who run the organisation on a day-to-day basis. The LTA Council, which represents the regions and some other stakeholders, is believed to have three BAME people among roughly 70 members. As for the LTA's 280-strong workforce itself, there is BAME representation of around 10 per cent, according to a spokesperson.
In a statement, the LTA said: "We recognise that we haven't done enough, which is why last year we revealed a vision to Open Tennis Up. We have been committed to doing more, so that in the future we will see improved BAME representation. We still have a long way to go, which is why we are working with organisations like Sport England to ensure we attract greater diversity."
If the people administering the game in Britain are largely monochrome, the same cannot be said of the players. At last year's Fed Cup tie between Great Britain and Kazakhstan, only two of the six women on the home team were white.
On the men's side, Paul Jubb and Jay Clarke - who are both black - figure among the five players who are receiving Pro Scholarship Programme funding. As for the best juniors, the two National Academies - based in Loughborough and Stirling - will have five students from minority backgrounds out of 20 when the new school year begins in September.
Speaking to Telegraph Sport, the black coach Justin Layne explained: "I can't say that I ever came across overt racism in tennis. In some ways, it can be an advantage to be black. People think black men are faster, rightly or wrongly. And governing bodies are always looking for good athletes."
"It's different with the people running the LTA, because they're not usually from a performance tennis background," added Layne. "On the LTA Council, for instance, they're usually people who have been successful running companies, who have taken early retirement, and who have been long-standing club players in their spare time. In both cases - on the court and in the office - the balance is a reflection of wider biases in society."
Layne has himself worked on programmes such as Tennis For Free and Compete Tennis, which were both based in inner cities and thus had at least 50 per cent ethnic minority representation. But when young people want to move on from these initiatives to find a club, not everywhere is welcoming.
"Nobody from a BAME background is going to be comfortable walking into Queen's Club and feel accepted in the next few years," said Rodney Rapson, a mixed-Asian former coach and player who now works for the hi-tech operation PlaySight and recently organised Europe's first post-Covid exhibition event. "For this to happen, there needs to be some long-term strategic investment and planning to reverse these trends.
"Having had the opportunity to be involved in tennis across the three English-speaking grand-slam nations, my perspective is that not much has changed in terms of the systemic racism involved within the sport of tennis," added Rapson.
"The letter from Scott Lloyd is a great start. I felt it was genuine and very different from the usual CEO statements. Now the LTA's management group need to get together and look at what they can do to really make an impact on the ground."