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.


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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. If like me, you believe that we only pass this way once, it seems incumbent on each one of us to make a stand at least once or twice in one’s life – to take a stand against the general flow of things, to stand up and be counted when all around you are cowering in the shadows. This is precisely what Brighton Table Tennis Club have done. They’ve taken a stand and a to hell with the bigots and the small minded. They have proudly declared that their club is a welcoming sanctuary for refugees, asylum seekers and all those that have been cast aside as ‘the other’.

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Table Tennis Dreams.

Ever since I can remember, through three successive administrative regimes, the English Table Tennis Association, the governing body for table tennis, has been dreaming and scheming about producing a world ping pong champion. As an interim and more realistic measure, they settle for dreams about how many players they can get into the world’s top one hundred.  The result of all this dreaming and scheming has been very little. There are currently no English table tennis players, men or women, in the top one hundred and there has not been since the retirement of Matthew Syed who reached a respectable but hardly world shattering number 24 in the world rankings.


But it is our job to dream and scheme retort the ETTA, and with our current crop of young players we might soon realise our dreams. Just give us a little longer and a few more resources and all will deliver the goods. Well it might and it might not, but the question we might ask ourselves, not just of the ETTA, but of all sports governing bodies; does it actually matter? Are we having the wrong dreams and therefore hatching the wrong schemes? I would argue emphatically that we are.

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The London Marathon

Life’s a marathon. Some drop out early and some struggle on to the finish. Of the finishers, some are nearly crippled; others just take it in their stride. Personal physiology, psychological aptitude, training routines and, most significantly, the necessary economic circumstances to allow that training, all come into the equation. Which ever way you look at it, the marathon metaphor proves quite apt to life itself. Perhaps that is why I find myself increasingly drawn to the marathon as a form of sport worthy of human endeavour in the 21st century.  Let’s clear up a few things first though. I have never run a marathon of any type and, at nearly three score years, I have little prospect of doing so. The nearest I came to a sporting marathon came when, in my late teens, a buddy and I cycled leisurely from London to Athens, taking the Austrian Alps in our stride. We took the best part of a month, so it hardly rated as a feat of sporting endurance, rather a damn good cycling holiday with no time limits other than those we set ourselves. We averaged a hundred miles a day over the flat so perhaps I have some vague claim to marathon status. But that was then and this is now.  Now I am content to polemicise about marathons rather than to actually run the things.

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Wiff-Waff for the Riff Raff (Olympic Notes No 6)

 Under the cleverly constructed heading, ‘Wiff Waff for the Riff Raff’, I recently received  a request for a donation towards a bid to win some Olympics table tennis tickets for some youngsters in a hard up community table tennis club.

 (For those unaware, ‘wiff-waff’ was the original name for ping pong, which itself eventually gave way to the more sober sounding table tennis, and it was wiff-waff that Boris Johnson bizarrely referred to in the closing ceremonies in Beijing.) Behind this wonderfully astute touch of self deprecating humour lies a deadly serious point of contention. Why is it that our sporting youngsters have to go begging for the money to get a foot inside the Olympic circus when thousands of top class tickets are freely distributed to every two-bit VIP and corporate tax avoiding criminal? The answer is self evident of course. The modern Olympic Games would be better named the Global Corporate Games, because that is exactly what they have become with any trace of the original Olympic Corinthian spirit long ago being jettisoned in favour of the big buck. The chances of London’s lowly paid working class, let alone the huge impoverished unemployed underclass, getting into the Olympic arena are close to zero.

Last Updated ( Friday, 15 April 2011 10:26 )

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