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.
Of the six bands on offer, only one band eluded them. The rest were firmly under their control. Like their all-conquering parent – The London Progress Table Tennis Club – the London Academy has become no stranger to the art and science of consistently winning table tennis trophies. Under the consummate coaching and management leadership of Bhavin Savjani, the London Academy has simply gone from strength to strength. But, without detracting in any way from London Academy’s magnificent achievement last weekend, it must be stressed that the real winners of the tournament were the 130 participants that, on a boiling hot day, gave their all to make this first community tournament a roaring success.
At one point, the queue to register for the morning events was very nearly out the door. That was an exciting moment even if it did indicate the need for a more professional registration process. The IT experts, I am told, are on the case as we speak. But leaving aside any logistical hiccups, the concept of a community based table tennis tournament that provides tournament opportunities for both the complete beginner and the accomplished competitor was readily seized upon by London’s table tennis community. By transcending the usual categories of age and gender, and instead focusing on attracting all levels of ability, the tournament laid the ground for an ongoing series of tournaments that students, parents, teachers and the next-door-neighbour can be involved in along side the more established table tennis community. It sounds so simple and obvious and yet such an open and accessible opportunity has been sorely lacking in the Capital. The answers for that are many and varied.
Most sporting communities are rather conservative in their outlook, none more so than the governing bodies themselves. They have their traditional ways of doing things and are rather reluctant to break out of their comfort zone. And with limited resources to play with, it is not so surprising that a conservative mind-set should prevail. But every so often something unexpected comes along to disturb that cosy routine. In the case of English table tennis it was an artistic initiative by the name of Ping London. Following on from the Sing London experiment where pianos were set up in public places to encourage public participation, some bright spark had the idea of doing the same thing with table tennis tables. The thing took off like wild-fire and Ping London soon became Ping England with free-to-use tables popping up all over the country. Some were indoors and some were outdoors but the principle was the same; come and have some spontaneous fun for free and bring your friends and family too. To the credit of Table Tennis England – the erstwhile conservative governing body of table tennis – they quickly recognised the potential to grow the sport and they got behind the initiative in some important practical ways.
But whilst Table Tennis England’s support is most welcome, if the initiative is to continue to grow, the table tennis community itself must seize the moment. We live in a city of nearly ten million people. More if you include those who travel in to work and study and socialise. And yet for some strange amalgam of reasons we hesitate to approach and include those millions of our fellow citizens. Our tournaments are generally rather exclusive and those newcomers that do slip through the net find themselves quickly knocked out and dispirited by a decidedly unfriendly tournament structure. The London Ping Community Ranking Tournaments, the first of which was held last weekend, aims to do the very opposite – to go out of its way to welcome all participants no matter what their skill level or sporting background. The philosophy is very simple: if you can hold a bat you are in. And if need be, we will provide tables without a net to make our events truly inclusive.
We have a sponsor – Top Spin Sports – and we have some initial financial support from the governing body. We have a great venue at the London Academy though we are open to holding extra tournaments anywhere in London. We have a dedicated group of coaches, volunteers and assistants and we have the first tournament successfully under our belts. We will work with anyone and everyone to expand the concept of community Ping. If things are to grow we will need new partners with their new ways of thinking. So, to the ten million citizens of London, we invite you to our next community ranking tournament. Online registration on our website: westlondonping.co.uk will be reopen shortly for our next tournament but in the meantime just drop us an email at westlondonping@gmailcom to register your interest. Remember, if you can hold a bat you’re good enough to enter.