21 Feb 2018

Interview: Issem Essais

News Article

By Tom Moran

Issem Essais

There are few people within the game more qualified than Issem Essais to speak on the importance of lived experience.

“When you have a variety, you’re more open than others who are stuck in only one thing,” she explained. “When you live that experience, it’s totally different to reading from the book.”

A former Fed Cup by BNP Paribas player for Tunisia, Essais played college tennis in the United States, has a degree in business administration from the University of Nevada, Reno, is a qualified tennis coach and is now based at the headquarters of the Confederation of African Tennis (CAT) in Tunis.

“I didn’t choose to be a coach, I never thought of being a coach,” she continued. “But it helps me and it helps the association I work for. I believe in that mixture, not having one background, having a variety.”

Essais is now putting her vast experience within tennis to good use as the Head of Projects for CAT. Earlier this month, she spent a week at the ITF’s head office in London as part of the ITF’s solidarity programme, which sees staff from the Regional and National Associations spending time with the ITF in order for both the participants and the ITF to learn more about each other’s roles, and to encourage closer working between the ITF and the Regional and National Associations. Essais is the fourth participant in the programme.

Among the projects in her portfolio, Essais works closely with National Associations throughout Africa on tournaments for players aged 14 and under – indeed, she is the primary contact person on the project for all of CAT’s 52 member nations.

Such work naturally brings her into close contact with the ITF’s Development department. Essais works closely with the three ITF Development Officers based in Africa, and with the training centres that are run as joint ventures between the ITF and CAT in Casablanca, Morocco and Nairobi, Kenya.

“Developing tennis in Africa cannot [be done] just by ourselves,” she explained. “The ITF is the main support, we get the funds, we get the experts, we get the guidance.

“We work together in promoting tennis in Africa. We do believe there are some talents out there and we just have to guide them.”

The challenges of developing tennis across an entire continent are not to be underestimated – but, as Essais noted, they all ultimately come down to one major factor.

“The problem is the money,” she said. “If you’re talented then you need some finances. Sponsors need some return on investment. Finding the money is the most difficult one. And of course you need to have a nice programme, there’s a pathway, transition. You need to know how you need to aim.”

Consequently, the funding and advice given by the ITF to the National Associations in Africa is crucial.

“It’s a big continent, and most of the funding comes from the GSDF [Grand Slam Development Fund] and the ITF,” Essais continued. “You just have to guide those countries and put them on the right path.”

It is for those reasons that the solidarity programme is so important. A week of meetings and discussions between Essais and staff at the ITF’s London office means that both the ITF and CAT are on the same page regarding the projects she is working on.

“If federations have a good structure and good guidance, then they can reach their objectives,” Essais said. It’s a simple goal and the solidarity programme aims to make it a reality.