A talented rackets-playing teen champion is being forced to watch his teammates compete in a public school tournament from the sidelines as he has been barred from playing - because he attends a state school.
Ben Cawston, who at 14 years old became the first state-education pupil to win a national public schools competition, is not allowed to play in this week's doubles tournament, due to being a pupil at a comprehensive. The teenager attends Westgate Comprehensive School in Winchester but trains at the prestigious Winchester College alongside his professional rackets-playing father.
Despite winning the under-15 singles competition at Queen's Club in West Kensington, Ben was told he could not compete after 14 public schools, including Eton and Harrow, voted to exclude state school players for the first time.
Talented Ben, left, also plays table tennis
Dr Peter Cramer, Winchester College’s master-in-charge of rackets, told the Independent: "We live in a worryingly divided society and charity legislation says public schools should have outreach programmes and connections with state schools – but we all feel this is something a school like ours should be doing anyway, because it is morally right.
"Rackets is a hugely exciting minority sport but, if more state school players came in and a few more courts were built, the game would open up to the rest of world, and that could only be a good thing. This ban is a great shame, but I’m sure it’s something we can set right."
Ben, who is also a talented table tennis player, will now have to be content watching his Winchester teammates from the sidelines, instead of competing for the doubles title.
David Makey, chair of the Rackets Professionals Association, responsible for the decision, said: "The pros are very much divided regarding this issue, particularly as we trialled it with boys from Manchester, and debates at RPA meetings in recent years have become more tense and at times extremely unpleasant and uncomfortable."
Chris Davies, chief executive of the Tennis and Rackets Association (T&RA), an autonomous body from the RPA, told HuffPost UK the decision was a "complete antithesis" of everything which has been achieved by the T&RA.
"[We have] increased participation for all schoolboys and schoolgirls in both Real Tennis and Rackets – and that is for public and state schools alike. It is harder with state school only due to the requirement to be chaperones out of school – but we just work twice as hard to achieve this – and the programme has been a success for both sports.
"Hence, this recent RPA decision is a backward step but one which can and will be rectified."