Ping Pong for Peace & Rollnets for Refugees

The Universal Language & Power of Sport to Build Bridges

 

Playing Table Tennis at the Za’atari Refugee Camp 4th - 6th April 2018

 

Tim Holtam - April 2018.

 

I have been following the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) Development Program for some years online. Over the past twenty years they have done some amazing projects in Nepal, Guinea Bisseau, Afghanistan, El Salvador and many other places that have suffered natural disasters or been destroyed by war. In 2017, the ITTF became the first international federation of any sport to develop a national association in all 226 countries in the world. A great achievement indeed.

 

Since Brighton Table Tennis Club (BTTC) became a Club of Sanctuary, welcoming refugees and asylum seekers in 2016, I have been asking Leandro Olvech, the Director of the ITTF Development Program to pay us a visit. The first few emails I sent him he forwarded to Sandra Deaton, Chair of Table Tennis England, the National Governing Body. Leandro is focused on developing countries and in England usually he would pass things to the national association.

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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. Furthermore, the sophistication of this civilisation in terms of cooperation and collective land management was a philosophical concept so advanced that Europeans today are still struggling to grasp its implications. So radical was their concept of collective ownership that Karl Marx was moved to describe it as ‘primitive communism’, the primitive aspect referring only too their low level of technological advancement rather than the communal philosophy itself.

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Anti-Semitism claims against Corbyn: It’s got MI5’s grubby fingerprints all over it.

Unravelling claims of anti-semitism in the Labour Party is tricky. Perhaps pockets of anti-semitism do still exist in the Labour Party in the way that they still exist in all institutions in this country. Except for a deeply ingrained misogyny, anti-semitism is probably one of the oldest irrational prejudices of European society. General European racism, based on the colour of one's skin, is a relatively recent prejudice in comparison. A construct of the modern colonial era. But history suggests that all human prejudices, whether ancient or relatively modern, when stripped of their emotive cultural narratives, are ultimately based on territory, power and economic control.

Those that define themselves as Jews, ether by race, culture or religion, have been both slave owners and enslaved. Both oppressor and oppressed. And the stories that Jews have created for themselves in the Old Testament are testament to that rather unpalatable fact. As the post-Romanic centuries rolled by, Jews, Christians and later Muslims, jostled for territory and influence. For those still subscribing to the Jewish narrative, it was a particularly rocky road. Sometimes they found themselves in favour and protected, at other times they were outcasts and demonised as the other.

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Facebook and Cambridge Analytica: Business as Usual

There is a bit of a hoo-ha going on at the moment concerning dark forces harvesting and manipulating personal data for political and commercial purposes. But it would be a much bigger story if we discovered that no such manipulations were taking place. The clever and the cunning and the outright disreputable have always sought to mould and manipulate the general populous. It started some ten thousand years ago with the start of so-called human civilisation but probably kicked in many millennia earlier - way back into our hunter-gatherer past. In fact, wherever you find religion and high priests, you will find manipulation. And wherever you find economic elites, you will uncover underhandedness and outright deception.

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Corbyns Response

Jeremy Corbyn may well go down in history as the best Prime Minister Britain never had. I sincerely hope not, but given his propensity for honesty and courage in the face of Establishment hostility, his chances of making No 10 are always going to be slim. All nations spin their own fantasy narrative and Britain is one of the experts in this field. Jeremy Corbyn doesn't like to play that game. He never has.

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March4Women: Sunday 4th March 2018

'Joined the March4Womwn after reading an inspiring issue of the free Stylist magazine. The entire issue No 402 was devoted to celebrating the 100-year anniversary of Britain's women securing voting rights, and a very fine anniversary edition it was. If you can still get a copy, I heartily recommend you do so. It's worth it for the graphics alone. It was the first time I had ever actually read the mag, believing it to be aimed primarily at white middle-class women with plenty of disposable income at their command. In fact, at first glance The Stylist comes across as little more than an advertising medium for the fashion and beauty industry rather than an attempt at serious journalism. Perhaps I've done the magazine an injustice because their tribute to the suffragettes was definitely more than just tokenism. It had some real substance. If I had one criticism, it was that the journalists focused too much on the western world, despite one excellent piece on Bhikaji Cama's role in the suffragette movement, choosing to largely ignore the billions of women still struggling word-wide for even the most basic of human rights. And that brings me to the march itself.

 

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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. Furthermore, according to Professor Suzuki,

There are three major areas affected by this high-speed game. The fine motor control and exquisite hand-eye coordination involved with dodging and diving for the ball engages and enhances the primary motor cortex and cerebellum, areas responsible for arm and hand movement. Secondly, by anticipating an opponent's shot, a player uses the prefrontal cortex for strategic planning. Thirdly, the aerobic exercise from the physical activity of the game stimulates the hippocampus, the part of the brain that is responsible for allowing us to form and retain long-term facts and events.

 

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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. I was there the best part of four hours and the tables were never empty. On the contrary, as people left, they were immediately replaced by new faces. Hammersmith Shopping Mall may be suffering terminal neglect from being in the shadow of the Westfields mega shopping complex, but this ping pong parlour was offering something that Westfields could only dream of  authenticity and joy.

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Ai Weiwei, Human Flow, Documentary Film Review

One sign of a modern society might be its ability to generate its own thoughtful critics. North America has them by the bucket loads; it used to be Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. Now it's Naomi Klein, Michael Moore, Oliver Stone and of course the irrepressible Noam Chomsky. The Indian subcontinent has the equally irrepressible Arundhati Roy and the Anglo-Indian author, Salman Rushdie. Australasia, still something of a colonial outpost in both politics and cultural attitudes, has its highly combatant John Pilger. Britain has its George Monbiot, Poly Toynbee, and Gary Younge amongst its many competent journalists; daring politicians like Caroline Lucas, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell; cutting-edge musicians like Linton Kwesi Johnson and of course its stand-out playwrights and film makers like Mike Leigh, Dennis Potter, Alan Bennett and Ken Loach. The African continent, both at home and in the African diaspora, has produced and continues to produce a rich seam of critics and activists, not least the revolutionary leaders of the post-colonial struggles and of course those wonderful reggae artists like Cliff, Tosh and Winston Rodney. But in the far-East, and in China in particular, the only name that comes readily to mind to the Eurocentric media, is that of Ai Weiwei.

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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. Not for them the 21st

century and the bracing winds of modernity, accountability and transparency. I have no idea how the exercise will pan out and to be honest I, and most table tennis enthusiasts, don't actually care. This is all set to be a token consultation that has no intention of asking the key question: How is it that of all the tens of thousands of youngsters that have been drawn into the sport over the past years, only a tiny handful are still playing? And if you don't ask the right sort of questions you have precious little chance of yielding the right sort of answers.

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Citizen: An American Lyric, Claudia Rankine, Penguin 2014

I know a person of Irish descent who tells me they have experienced varying levels of petty prejudice throughout their life but that it comes and goes. That person is white. I know a person of Jewish descent who tells me they have experienced petty prejudices at varying time in their life but that it comes and goes. They are white. Reading Claudia Rankine's Citizen, I get the distinct impression that for Black people living in predominantly European societies, the prejudice never really stops because they are always, first and foremost, in the eyes of the European, Black.

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Oxfam Report: How the neo-liberal, corporate elite hate it.

The statistics are damning enough. But of course, they are damning every year. It never seems to get better. Nearly a billion of our fellow citizens are without clean and safe drinking water. The stuff they are forced to drink is contaminated with every conceivable parasite and life-threatening bacteria. Two billion of our fellow citizens must make do without proper sanitation. Disease is rife. lives are cut short. One in five girls don't get a primary school education. They are condemned to a lifetime of grinding poverty and ignorance. To top it off, the extremes of wealth and poverty just get larger. A mere 42 people hold the same wealth as the poorest 3.7 billion. 82% of the wealth created in 2017 went to the obscenely rich 1%.

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Brexit Blues

Brexit, Brexit from May to December

Brexit scheming is all I remember

Productivity rising, trade is flat-lining

A time for cheering or a time for crying.

 

Brexit, Brexit from Monday to Sunday

Brexit plotting for a pumped-up payday

Opportunities opening, trade door slamming

The predictions are rosy, the forecasts are damning.

 

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The Crown: Series 2, Netflix, 2017

'The golden age of TV continues. Not that there isn't mountains of dross out there. Of course there is. But amongst the dross there seems to be a slow but steady stream of gems. The latest, in my ever so umble opinion, has to be The Crown. Not since the BBC's I Claudius in the mid 1970's has a TV series set out with so much ambition. The BBC's Our Friends From The North and This Life certainly had ambition as did HBO's The Wire and The Sopranos. Black Mirror is absolutely sublime as are the three series of In Treatment. The House of Cards and Homeland are both likely to be on many people's best of the best list. There have been plenty of other minor masterpieces to salivate over, not least being Alan Bennett's Talking Heads, A very British Coup and the more recent, Wolf Hall. In fact, if you put your mind to it, it is easy enough to conjure up a list of twenty or more TV masterpieces without watering down the quality in the slightest.

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The Greatest, Matthew Syed, John Murray Publishers, 2017

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. Syed systematically explodes this ruling-class myth. Syed is also consistently in the vanguard in exposing petty prejudices in sport and society; not least racist and homophobic prejudices. Once again, this sterling work should be acknowledged and applauded. But when Syed strays into the world of historical polemics, one can't help but feel, despite or perhaps because of his PPE Oxford Degree, that he is way out of his depth. Clearly, dialectical thinking is not on the Oxbridge curriculum. 

 

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Even The Dogs, Jon McGregor, Bloomsbury, London, 2010

Christmas is the season of good cheer. It is also the season of forced gaiety and consumerist frenzy. It is also the season of bleak homelessness, addiction and other forms of individual and family disfunction. And should you wish to get an insight into the latter condition, you could do no better than to read Jon McGregor's, Even The Dogs. I am currently mourning Jim Crace's decision to retire from novel writing but praise the gods, Jon McGregor has miraculously arrived to fill the vacuum. And he does so with all the literary genius that we had come to love and expect from Jim Crace. Two literary geniuses proving, as if proof was necessary, that the centuries old art of novel writing is not dead.

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