Here’s a quote I found recently from a top English table tennis player, talking about funding in table tennis: “It was a pity that when I needed help and sponsorship I had to go to Germany to get it, but I am afraid that table tennis here in England has been slow to develop. Indeed at one time our best seven men and women were travelling to Germany to play, which seems quite ridiculous.”
Sound familiar? This was actually written 35 years ago by the legendary Desmond Douglas. What strikes me most about this quote is that it could have been written by any top English player today. In 35 years, not much has really changed. Table tennis has never been a sport full of riches. The very top players can earn a decent living, but for most it’s a struggle. Any English player hoping to earn a living, will almost certainly have to play in Europe.
For juniors with dreams of being a table tennis professional, funding is a big issue. The cost of coaching, equipment, participation in tournaments (plus travel and accommodation) – all the things required to reach the top – can really add up.
Few clubs are able to subsidise the development of junior players. And there really isn’t much central funding available from governing bodies. Even if juniors are selected to play in international tournaments, they are often required to fund travel and accommodation themselves (i.e. parents).
However, it’s not all doom and gloom! One new initiative to help juniors is the Inspire a Star website. Launched by Jill Storey in 2013, the website helps young aspiring sport stars raise money for coaching, equipment, travel to tournaments and more. Jill’s inspiration came from the 2012 Olympics and the impact it had on the country.
She told me, “It seemed lots of people wanted to be involved and participate in sport. I wanted a platform to help children fund their sporting dream. In an ideal world a lack of funding wouldn’t prevent any rising star reaching their full potential at their sport.”
Young table tennis players have featured quite heavily on the website since its launch. They have raised nearly £8,000, mainly for participation in international tournaments and associated travel and accommodation costs.
As an outsider looking in, it seems to be a bit of a mystery why table tennis players have had such success with the website. Jill believes it’s a combination of reasons: “Table Tennis England were very good when I first spoke to them and seemed to like the idea. It may be because there is less central funding to pay for teams to travel overseas and players who are selected have to pay their own way. Also, once word spreads in one sport, others hear about it and think they will try.”
Nearly 50% of table tennis players who have used the website have reached or exceeded their fundraising target. As a result, these young table tennis stars have been able to participate in tournaments all over the world, including the World Championships in China. They have been exposed to a higher standard of play compared to the UK, giving them vital insight into how the very best play and approach the game.
When using the website, achieving a fundraising target isn’t guaranteed. The player has to work hard to promote their fundraising page. Jill says, “The people who have been successful have often put in a lot of effort using social media, Facebook and tweeting to people in their club, local area, friends and family. They tend to generate a lot more interest and reach their targets.”
What does the future hold for the Inspire a Star website? “Initially I wanted to make sure that the idea worked”, Jill tells me. “Now I would like to get more people to hear about the site and for it to become the place to go for rising sports stars looking to fund their sporting dreams. I would like to get some corporate sponsors so that we could add to the people funding and help more people reach their targets. For table tennis, I would like 100 young rising table tennis players to have raised some funds with Inspire a Star by the Rio Olympics in 2016.”
It’s difficult to see how central funding of table tennis is going to change significantly in the short term. Governing bodies in England, Scotland and Wales are gradually becoming more professional, but they are some distance behind other sports in terms of generating funds from sports bodies and sponsors. Quite simply, there is only limited funds available to develop table tennis stars of the future.
In this context a website such as Inspire a Star becomes very important. It provides a simple way for an aspiring table tennis player to raise much needed funds to improve their skills, whether through coaching or participation in tournaments. A lack of central funding needn’t be an obstacle. You can take matters into your own hands and raise the funds yourself.
Asking for help with funding can be hard, but the Inspire a Star website can certainly make it easier. If you’re a young table tennis player, hoping to be a star of the future, I would definitely recommend taking a look at the website. And if you’re an adult and want to help a future table tennis star, then get donating…