Innovation That Matters

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Playing tennis with a purpose

Sport & Fitness

One founder hopes to get more people involved in the sport, with his accessible tournaments that don't hurt the planet

Spotted: Tennis is one of the most popular sports around the world, suitable for a huge range of ages and abilities. In fact, according to the International Tennis Federation, around 87 million people play the sport, with even more enjoying watching it on TV. Inspired by his personal love of the sport, Rich Neher founded Conga Sports in 2021, to support grassroots tennis and make it more accessible with innovative programmes and tournaments.

The organisation’s big flagship programme, called City Slams, involves teams of six (three men and three women) playing for their city and community, competing for “trophies and bragging rights”, as Rich explained to Springwise. Contrary to your average tennis match, Conga Sports makes fun a priority in its tournaments. For instance, the City Slams teams must come up with a creative group name, as well as dress in inventive costumes and perform a team song.

When Rich moved to the States from Germany in 1985, he was shocked by the lack of recycling. “At that time we already had a flourishing recycling environment in Germany (…) I came to this country and there was nothing. Even today, there’s very little recycling in buildings: the trash goes out and everyone throws everything in the same dumpster.” This same wastefulness is also reflected in the world of tennis – from equipment packaging, racquet strings, and most importantly, tennis balls. Rich highlights that 400 million tennis balls are used every year, with 200 million of those ending up in landfills.

To make tennis greener as well as more inclusive, all Conga Sports balls are sent to Vermont-based RecycleBalls for repurposing. After grinding them up, the balls can be used for various purposes, including for horse footing and new tennis court surfaces.

Rich also wanted to take sustainability to the next level, and partnered with One Tree Planted earlier this year. Through this partnership, Conga Sports has committed to planting one tree for every can of tennis balls used in its programmes. Although Rich emphasises that because Conga Sports is a young company and it’s limited in how many trees it can contribute, he hopes it can have a much bigger impact in future. “Our goal for 2030 – it’s a very ambitious goal I must admit – is to have planted 1 million trees. It’s a big goal, but I’m determined,” Rich told Springwise.

Springwise has spotted other ways innovators are making the sports industry less harmful to the planet, including by turning plastic water bottles into tennis accessories and using natural rubber to make greener wetsuits.

Written By: Matilda Cox



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