St Vincent and the Grenadines has just returned from participating in the OECS and Caribbean Table Tennis Championships held in neighbouring St Lucia. It has been some time since we participated in competitions in this sport outside of St Vincent and the Grenadines. It is however important to review what this most recent competition tells us about the sport in our country at this stage.
Table Tennis has been the recipient of much assistance from the National Olympic Committee (NOC) in an effort to facilitate its development.
Coach Dawlatly of Egypt has been to St Vincent and the Grenadines courtesy the NOC and Olympic Solidarity, the development arm of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), on two occasions, serving the local governing body for Table Tennis on behalf of the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF).
Dawlatly has been here to conduct a long-term programme aimed at the development of a national structure for the sport of Table Tennis and returned to conduct a technical course at which local coaches were certified.
Several coaches have been trained in the sport and certified at different levels.
The NOC has also provided assistance to the local sporting body to procure equipment as well as to compete ate several competitions at the regional and international level. The sport has been on national representative teams at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, England (2002), Melbourne, Australia (2006) and Delhi, India (2010). Opportunities have also been afforded the fraternity o participate in qualification competitions for the quadrennial Pan American Games, the most recent of which was for Guadalajara, Mexico.
The local body also participated in the NOC’s Grassroots Talent Identification Programme (GTIP) which saw some of the coaches conduct sessions around the country.
For the past few years the sport of Table Tennis has been in something of a lull. It was not that the sport wasn’t being played. It was that the dynamism of those responsible for the sport had slowed considerably and competitions were in short supply.
The contentious issues aside the fact is that the game had fallen considerably in the time with the numbers being attracted to the sport in decline.
A new executive was installed in office earlier this year. The new leadership has been particularly fortunate to have the services of Orville Haslam, the longest serving champion of the green table in the Caribbean.
The approach of the new executive of Table Tennis here began their work by engaging in a series of planning sessions. The planning was informed by a critical analysis of the state of the sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
The proposals that have now been placed on the table for the development of the sport focus on the systematic search for new talent across the State.
It is interesting that the plans should lead to an aggressive approach to the development of the sport at all levels in this country.
The emphasis would be on restarting the GTIP component of the sport and activating coaches who have been trained but seemed unwilling to come out and work, imparting their training to others.
Training of coaches remains a priority and so the local body has applied and received approval for a technical course from the NOC to training a new cadre of coaches to add to the existing list.
The plan is also to encourage the older players who still have an interest in the game to work closely with the local body to promote the sport in every corner of Vincentian society.
With the NOC’s Sport for All programme now in train there is little doubt that Table Tennis, like so many other affiliates, could easily access a much larger pool of players as communities across the country take to the practice of physical activity of one sort or another.
Already the Firms competition has been reintroduced and plans are in train for a flurry of competitions at home to allow players to further hone their skills.
The schools are again being targeted on two fronts. On the one hand the association is keen on getting physical education teachers sufficiently trained and keen on becoming involved in the sport.
Secondly, the association wants to get the students at the educational institutions playing the game.
The idea seems to be that once the students show an interest they could be encouraged to stay with the sport. Regular competition would of course allow the athletes to improve over time.
An education programme in support of the initiatives of the local body would also go a long way towards the revival of interest and attract new individuals to the sport.
Funding is an area, which would need much attention, however. A huge effort would have to be made to raise funds to achieve the success that the organisation is hoping for.
Several armchair critics have been critical of the decision of the local table Tennis leadership to participate in the competitions in St Lucia after what has been a relative lull in the sport here at home.
One of the reasons that the association would have wanted to participate would obviously have been the need to show that it is alive and well after the leadership change. This must have been considered important for the promotion of the sport.
Many may think this trivial but those who have an interest in the sport always want to know that it is very much there and that opportunities exist for them to get involved and be able to represent this country with pride.
A second reason for going to St Lucia must have been the fact that it has been some time since an OECS competition was held.
It is true that the other OECS countries did not come out leaving St Vincent and the Grenadines to compete against old archrivals, St Lucia, but this does not take away from the fact that the realisation of the competition was an important step in the sustainability of the sport at the sub regional level.
In the absence of the OECS Sports Desk, closed some years now without any sort of communication by the pertinent authorities, it has been left to the respective national sports associations to keep sport between the countries of the sub region alive.
The Association of National Olympic Committees of the OECS (ANOCES) has communicated with the OECS Secretariat, informing of its existence and readiness to assist in the development in a sustainable manner in the sub region. This is an important development and the organisation will, in the next few months, reveal some of its plans in this regard.
Another for participating in the two championships was their proximity.
One is not at all certain as to when last or when next the Caribbean Table Tennis Championships would be held in a country sufficiently close to St Vincent and the Grenadines to allow for maximum participation. It therefore seemed fitting that the local body should take advantage of the opportunity afforded by St Lucia’s decision to host both championships back-to-back.
Participation in the sport at both the sub regional and Caribbean level at the same time in the same venue is not often the case and would surely have allowed the new executive of the local body the opportunity to assess just where the current crop of players are in their own development relative to the game.
Competing at home is one thing. Doing so at a significantly higher level is quite another and the results reveal this truth.
The St Lucia competitions witnessed the younger players of this country coming up against their older counterparts even as they competed against the best St Lucia had to offer.
That the younger players upstaged our older stalwarts must be considered impressive and may well signal a changing of the guard at the local level.
It is always important that we see young talent coming through the ranks to take over the mantle of leadership from those who, for several years, have carried the nation’s flag with honour.
While it is good to see the younger players perform as well as they did in relation to our own older players, we must at the same time recognise that the goal is to do significantly better at the sub regional and Caribbean levels then go on to the international scene.
If we are struggling to defeat St Lucia then we know that we are still well behind in the all-round development of our game.
The experience in St Lucia must have shown the new leadership of local Table Tennis the tremendous amount of work that lies ahead and the importance of taking a systematic approach founded on sound strategic planning.
There can be no shortcuts to the building of a strong sports association. Every component from players – who are the most important – through to the administrators, coaches, parents, teachers, supporters and sponsors, must know and commit to their respective responsibilities in order to attain success.
Having come away from St Lucia the local Table Tennis association must do what is necessary. Better understanding of the state of the sport in the country, work towards the realisation of the programme that has been developed. Tweak it when necessary and strive after excellence.
There has to be an on-going partnership for progress within the association and carefully involve all stakeholders.
Coaches who have been trained must be brought back into the field. The older players must help the young ones and participate in the broad team-building process.
The association must work in harmony with other national sports bodies to collectively push the physical activity and Sport for All agenda forward to engender a healthier St Vincent and the Grenadines. It is on such a firm foundation that Table Tennis and all other sports would develop and sustain themselves.