CATEGORY: Sports POLEMICS
FOOTBALL, WATER CARRIERS AND WHY YOU SHOULD NEVER, EVER EMPLOY A ROCK STAR
September 1996 saw Manchester United come up against Juventus in the group stages of the Champions League. More intriguingly it saw United’s French superstar Eric Cantona come up against his countryman Didier Deschamps. The battles on the pitch went the way of the diminutive midfielder with Juventus winning home and away, but in the war of words between them, there was only ever going to be one winner.
Cantona flicked away his rival by damning him the faintest of praise. “He gets by because he gives 100%, but he will never be more than a water carrier”. Dechamps could only agree. “A water carrier? Yes, that’s exactly what I am. Great teams are not just created by the architect but also by bricklayers and hod carriers.”
Cantona, of course, would end up being so much more than your average footballer, as likely to digress into philosophy or art as well as he was to execute the odd flying kick on a mouthy Crystal Palace supporter. Deschamps went on being a water carrier – tackling and passing his way to multiple titles and eventually leading his country to win the World and European Cups. It should come as no surprise that of the two, he was by far the more successful football player.
Prison Ping: Coaching to a Captive Audience
Got an invitation recently to help out with a table tennis coaching session at one of Her Majesty’s maximum-security prisons. I duly accepted the invitation, grabbed my bat and ball and set off down the road. This was to be part of an ongoing project to get the best ping players in the prison up to scratch and ready to take their official Level 1 coaching badge. From there, they would fan out across the prison wings, passing on their newly acquired skills to anyone and everyone that cared to learn. And, as an added bonus, when they had done their time, they would leave prison with a marketable skill which just may help with their reintegration into the outside asylum. I was arriving about mid-way through the project so I would get a fairly good idea of how it was all going.
The power and potential of ping pong & parkrun
When considering the next stages in the rapid development of Brighton Table Tennis Club, I have been reflecting on the parallels between the development of parkrun and the potential realisable for table tennis, with an emphasis on social cohesion and community as well as success in the game.
Some clubs are already on this road and are leading the way. Over the last year London Ping has been running fully inclusive London Community Rankings tournaments that are Ping Pong’s equivalent of parkrun in many ways. Absolutely everyone is welcome from senior internationals to six year old complete beginners. There is total flexibility from the organiser to accommodate everyone by putting up minimal barriers to entry. There is an online, easy to use form to enter, and if players turn up on the day then everyone is welcomed and put in the band that they ask to play in.
Down’s Syndrome World Table Tennis Championships.
We all have our petty prejudices. Even me. It’s probably something to do with our tribal origins. Left unattended, our prejudices can all too easily morph into irrational hatreds and bigotry. Under extreme conditions one might even kill in the name of defending one’s dearly held prejudice. It happens all the time all over our sorry little world. It is often forgotten that, along with communists, socialists, trade unionists, homosexuals and transgenders, Roma and Jews, people with varying physical and intellectual disabilities were ruthlessly and systematically murdered by twentieth century fascist regimes.
PING London: From London Progress to London Ping
There is nothing inherently wrong with success. It is, in all probability, hardwired into the human condition. Success in adapting to new circumstances was everything to our ancient ancestors. Success or failure in hunting could mean the difference between survival and an early death. Success in securing a suitable mate could mean the chance to grow the tribe and stay one step ahead. Whichever way you look at it, either in terms of cooperation or competition, or an intricate matrix of both, success has been at the heart of the human journey. The forms and definitions of success continue to vary over the millennia, but it is hard to envisage the history and future survival of we homo-sapiens without the drive to not only compete but to succeed both in collaboration with and at the expense of others. And we have some claim to be the most successful species ever.
London Ping Ranking Tournaments get off to a Flying Start
It is traditional in sports journalism to immediately zoom in on the winners of any given sporting event, be it the humble local fixture or the more exulted national and international contests. It’s all about the winning and the rest is merely background noise. That is the norm and we rarely deviate from it. And in that tradition, London Academy Table Tennis Club should be heartily congratulated for their near clean sweep of trophies in the inaugural London Ping Community Ranking Tournament.
The KX Table Tennis Tribe: Self-Management at its Very Best
Some readers may recall that life for Ping England started with a wizz-bang promotional show in the beautifully renovated St Pancras Railway. The big names of English table tennis were invited, along with the bigwigs from Sport England, to witness the launch of free street table tennis. Tables were scattered across the many concourses of the station and the general public were invited to have a go. It was a roaring success and the whole Ping phenomena took off from thereon. Of course, it wasn’t a national programme way back then, but an ‘arty’ initiative simply aimed at the Capital. No-one imagined that this plucky ping pong adventure would so quickly take on national dimensions, or that eight years later, one of the very best examples of Ping England would spontaneously emerge just a few metres away at the back of the stunningly revamped Kings Cross Railway Station.
Aussie Ball Tampering – Symbolic of a larger malaise?
Australia, like every nation, has enmeshed itself in an intricate web of self-deceits, half-truths and outright lies. And that is no surprise given that modern ‘European’ society in Australia was founded on one gigantic lie – that the Australian landmass was empty of human settlement when the first European invaders arrived. The very contrary was in fact true. Australia was, prior to the European invasion, the home to some one hundred Aboriginal nations, each with their own language, culture and administrative systems. In fact, taken collectively, the indigenous peoples of Australia represented humanity’s longest continuous civilisation, dating back thirty thousand years or more.
Table Tennis is good for the brain
There is a lot going on in table tennis, says Wendy Suzuki, a tenured professor of neuroscience at New York University and author of Healthy Brain, Happy Life, a new book exploring how sport generally and table tennis specifically can affect the human brain. Attention is increasing, memory is increasing, you have a better mood. And you are building motor circuits in your brain. A bigger part of your brain is being activated.
Hammersmith Ping Pong Parlour – A Joy to Behold
I’d heard rumours of this one for some time, not only from the kids but also their mums and dads. It was time to check it out. On a lazy Sunday afternoon, along with a fellow coach, I arrived with a more or less open mind and my bat in my bag. It didn’t take very long to realise that this was to be an experience close to the very essence of not only West London Ping but of Ping England itself. Three tables in a disused and unloved shop in the Hammersmith shopping mall with nobody in charge and a queue for every table.
Table Tennis England – Still asking the wrong questions.
I understand the governing body of table tennis are in the midst of a root and branch examination of their governing structures. This was forced upon them by some of the old guard kicking back against the modern era being imposed on the organisation by Sport England who bluntly told them modernise your structures or loose all your public funding. Quite right. By the old guard I refer to the League and County committees who, hiding behind the fake banner of democracy, resent having Sport England meddling in their decades old control of the sport.
The Greatest by Matthew Syed
The standout chapter in this otherwise routine offering is undoubtedly Chapter 4, The Political Game. But it is the standout chapter for all the worst reasons. On the question of sports psychology, motivation and sporting success, Syed has been determinedly innovative and at times quite revolutionary. Syed consistently rejects spurious notions of inherent talent and instead focuses on personal mindset, environmental factors and sheer hard work. For this Syed should be warmly applauded. Talent as a factor in success is ultimately a reactionary concept carelessly propagated by the ruling elites to justify their continued hold on the reigns of power.
Of course, Russian sport is corrupt, but then so are the Olympics, Simon Jenkins, The Guardian
A welcome and overdue return to sporting polemics but predictably it’s the same old story; corruption, doping and unaccountable oligarchy. Simon Jenkins does an excellent job in outlining the corrupt relationship between the Russian authorities and the IOC and FIFA. But more than that, he goes on to make the point that it is not only Russian sport that is mired in corruption and cheating. All nations are at it, not least the British, although they like to play the very British game of being holier than thou.
Ping Brighton – Making a Statement, Taking a Stand
Brighton Table Tennis Club has won the beautiful accolade of being the first table tennis club in the country to be nominated a ‘Club of Sanctuary’. That is no small achievement. In fact, in these dark days of growing xenophobia and insularity, this accolade shines like a golden beacon.
UK Sport in the Dock
It simply isn’t good enough for UK Sport to put all the blame for the allegations of sexism, bullying, cheating and general boorish behaviour currently emerging at British Cycling solely onto the shoulders of cycling’s governing body. Certainly, like all national sports administration’s, British Cycling has questions to answer when it comes to all round good governance. But it is UK Sport that have the most to answer. Any national sports strategy and associated funding policy that is skewered obsessively towards international medals is guaranteed to create a dysfunctional and socially regressive climate in the upper echelons of British sport. British Cycling, once the golden girl and boy of British sport has inevitably succumbed to the insane pressures piled on them from UK Sport and their political masters in Whitehall and Westminster. Whilst those pressures persist, we can expect many more examples to emerge of bullying and general dysfunction, not just in cycling but across the entire sporting spectrum.
Pick up a bat if you see it
Have a quick game if you feel it
Take on the world if you dare it
If the ball comes your way then just ping it
The Rio Olympics: The Usual Unpalatable Truths.
The Rio Olympics are taking place in the middle of a carefully orchestrated domestic political coup against the Brazilian Workers Party, a coup that the world media, including the Brazilian media itself, have singularly refused to comment on. This is the same Brazilian monopolistic media empire that openly supported the military coup way back in 1964.
Brighton Table Tennis – A club of Sanctuary
First there was Anh. In January 2015 I was introduced to Anh, a Vietnamese 16 year old in foster care in Brighton. He was a victim of trafficking, from Vietnam in the back of a lorry from China. His journey had taken a year and he arrived in November 2014. The Virtual School for Children in Care asked if Brighton Table Tennis Club could provide some 1 to 1 Table Tennis and English tuition for Anh. I had no idea that this was the beginning of something big, of which we are both the front line and just the start.
Hillsborough: A Case Study in Britain’s Tainted Democracy
Much of the British media, excluding of course the criminal Murdoch Empire, are feigning a moral outrage at how shabbily the victims of the Hillsborough tragedy and their surviving relatives and friends have been treated. Perhaps some of the outrage is genuine but it doesn’t feel so. It feels manufactured for the moment, and will be just as quickly forgotten as soon as the next big news story comes along. What makes this media outrage seem less than genuine is the failure by even the liberal media to join up the dots.
New Government Sports Strategy: Eighty-four pages of fine sounding platitudes.
When it comes to entrenched poverty it is often asked: is it a culture of poverty or a poverty of culture that is the problem? But there really is no chicken and egg situation when it comes to poverty. Material poverty always and everywhere drives cultural poverty. It always has and it always will. Admittedly, once a culture of poverty has taken hold it too can work to further entrench a material poverty, but we should not allow ourselves be lulled into the mistaken belief that cultural poverty is at the root of the problem.
Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby
It would be seriously remiss of Sporting Polemics not to review this one, even though it has been around for nearly twenty five years. The category of classic is heavily overused these days but in its own unique and particular way I think Fever Pitch can rightly claim that epithet. In an age of relentless atomisation and the accompanying alienation, this little tale of football tribalism and personal obsession, is perhaps more apposite than ever. Families, local communities and entire national, class and religious affiliations are crumbling in front of our very eyes. So it is little surprising that fanatical sporting allegiance should step forward to fill the void. Hornby’s Fever Pitch is not only funny and poignant but sociologically spot on.