GB Table Tennis: Where’s My Money?

With the Olympics being held in London next summer it is a hugely exciting time for all British athletes.The new table tennis format means that each nation is only allowed to enter two singles players, this has excited many players.It means the likes of China are only able to enter two singles players into both the men’s and women’s which means that they can only claim two medals in each of these, this leaving a medal open to many other players.

British table tennis is clearly on the rise, at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 there were no British players inside the top 200, both for the men’s and the women’s. Now with the London 2012 Olympics quickly approaching there are two female and two male players inside the top 200 players in the world. This is very exciting for British table tennis and great for the fans to see British talent competing against some of the worlds best on home soil in the London Olympics.

Everything looks great for British table tennis right? Unfortunately that is not that case and although British players are winning more ITTF matches and events than ever before, they have had their funding cut. For the 2012 Olympics, the British table tennis team found their funding cut by more than 50% since 2009 to £1.2 million. This cut makes Table Tennis the lowest funded of all Olympic sports. The cuts have left many players financially stranded and British table tennis at a standstill; Ex GB Coach Steen Hansen said “The players lost motivation. We definitely delivered our targets for UK Sport but we never promised to beat China in 2012 – no one can – which is what seemed to be the reason for the cuts.”

This is not British table tennis moving forward and they can’t expect to see players like Paul Drinkhall, Darius Knight and Kelly Sibley to bring home medals if they are not backed financially.  To touch on what GB coach Steen Hansen said, the players also lost motivation. The lack of funding is un-refreshing and it is sad to see it has happened just before this major event and when British table tennis was on the rise.  Paul Drinkhall has excelled and become an established British table tennis player. Hansen said “He is such a fantastic player but he’s standing completely still. I know he could be a top 10 player.”

What makes funding even more important is that many GB players have to travel abroad to play their club matches. Kelly Sibley plays her matches in Spain whilst Paul Drinkhall plays his club matches in Castell Goffreddoon, Italy. This is because the level of play in the UK is not competitive enough so they have to travel through Europe just to improve as a player.  With less funding they can no longer do this, thus allowing them to only compete in the domestic leagues.   Paul Drinkhall, Liam Pitchford and Darius Knight even went to the extremes of moving abroad full time.  Darius Knight (Photo on the right with ADPP’s Marcus) moved full time to Austria due to the lack of funding.  He said, “In Austria, life is not as expensive and the table tennis is much better. With our funding problem there’s not much here [in England] for me, the move can only be positive.” Click here for the full BBC article (External Site)

What is positive to see is that players are being sponsored.  Kelly Sibley has just been signed up by OLBG who are have agreed to pay for a training trip to China and funding her ever day training and play.  Kelly is GB’s second highest ranked player and she has had to find personal sponsorship, its anyone’s guess for how they expect aspiring players to make it to a professional level if funding can’t even get to GB’s top 5 players.

Despite the lack of funding there are positives, players such a Liam Pitchford beat the world number 9 Vladimir Samsonov at the European Table Tennis Championships back in October this year. This is all very encouraging for British table tennis. However, there will have to be extra funding for the sport to keep moving forward to even stand a chance against the top players in the future.  We may have some great talent playing at the moment but are in danger of falling behind the global development curve if money is not invested in developing young players and if they don’t back our countries best.

Marcus @ ADPP

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