BLIND tennis could be a Paralympic sport within the next two decades thanks, in part, to the efforts of a York man.
Andy Crockett helped to form the International Blind Tennis Association and to establish a set of standardised rules for the sport at a conference held in Texas.
Crockett, who began the York Visually Impaired Tennis Club in October 2012 along with coaching assistant Jill King, had already tutored Kelly Cronin to become the first ever totally blind national champion at the Metro National Tournament in Roehampton last October.
He described attending the gathering, where he gave a presentation and was asked to be one of two moderators charged with keeping the conference on track, as a “life changing experience”.
“We didn’t know entirely what to expect but the aim was to establish standardised rules and work towards our ultimate goal of international Tennis Federation and then Paralympic inclusion,” Crockett said.
“Two very tough days of discussion, negotiation and much compromise took place. Sticking points were choosing the format of the committee and particularly the court size.
“In order to seek ITF recognition we needed to choose a court size that was already recognised and also we had to stick as close to full ITF playing rules as possible, with just a few adaptations for visually impaired and blind tennis.
“At the end of the two days we had established the International Blind Tennis Association with an agreed committee.
“We also had our first ever fully signed off set of rules, which will form the basis of all coaching sessions and tournaments over the coming 12 months.”
The new organisation is now aiming to show visually impaired and blind tennis as an exhibition sport in Tokyo 2020 and as a demonstration sport four years later.
It must wait until 2032 before it can gain full Paralympic status.
The first friendly international tournament is set to be held in South Korea on June 27 and 28.
Crockett hopes the first official competition will be staged in Roehampton later this year or early in 2015.
“It will be with great pride in 2032 when we sit down and watch the first blind and visually impaired tennis players take their rightful place in the Paralympic Games,” he said of the fledgling organisation’s overall vision.
“I’m sure it will also be a hugely emotional time to when we recognise that we played a small role in starting the entire process on its way.”