Subjects ranging from membership and facilities to playing equipment and service laws were covered at the latest Table Tennis England online Question Time event.
Around a dozen members attended the session, while others submitted questions in advance, to put to Chief Executive Adrian Christy, Chair Sandra Deaton and all members of the Senior Leadership Team.
New Board Directors Sally Hughes and Mark Boote were also on the call.
The first question dealt with participation levels in local leagues, specifically how many leagues and teams had disappeared since the 1960s and what level of participants are under 21 years old. Further questions asked about use of schools facilities and whether these had re-opened since the pandemic.
The data is not available going back to the 1960s, but we know that since the London 2012 Olympics, around one-third of leagues have ceased to play and the number of clubs and players in leagues have declined by a similar amount. It is too early to determine the trend in under-21 participation since the introduction of the Fast Format option for leagues – this will be analysed over the coming years.
The closing of school facilities to community groups since the pandemic is a concern across the country and across all sports. The Open Schools Facilities Fund is aiming to address this and there is potential for this to help existing and new clubs find places to play.
There was also a discussion around funding new facilities, as capital funding for these has declined hugely since the pandemic. Adrian stated that we provide letters of endorsement to help community clubs unlock funding, and can engage in dialogue with Sport England to support projects.
There was a question about the process for putting forward changes to the service law, specifically regarding shielding of the ball from opponents and/or umpires.
Sandra suggested that contacting the ITTF’s Umpires and Referees Committee, through committee member Tom Purcell, would be the most effective way of starting this conversation.
Another member asked about how local league players can work out the best bat and rubber combinations for them, without spending a fortune experimenting.
Head of Performance Development Gavin Evans suggested trying team-mates’ bats, contacting suppliers to request samples, or visiting trade stands at our national competitions to ask for advice. It is also intended to include education about playing equipment as part of our planned Festivals of Coaching, which are currently in development.
The next question concerned the status of the Pathway Development Centres which are currently in the application stage.
Gavin replied that there had been some excellent applications and the assessment panel has met and will soon be announcing the outcome.
A question was asked about problems experienced by some members with the auto-renew option.
Head of Finance and IT Samantha Garey said a handful of members had reported issues which were out of our control as they related to the individuals’ banks. However, according to our platform provider Sport80, this issue should not recur. More than 8,000 memberships have gone through on auto-renew with no issues.
The next question was about players who only play summer leagues potentially having to join across two seasons.
Head of Engagement Keely Armitt replied to say our membership structure is currently undergoing a major review and this was one important area which we had received feedback about and were looking at.
There was a question about improving the relationship between local league players and Table Tennis England. It was agreed that this is not a new issue. Adrian replied to say we are using technology to develop more relevant and personalised communications for members to improve engagement. We are also reaching more people with our Over the Net newsletter and have introduced CEO updates and Question Time events. We are also always happy to arrange local meetings with grassroots organisations.
There was some common ground between this discussion and the next question, which dealt with how to encourage the 400,000 people who play table tennis regularly to become members of the governing body.
Adrian replied that we are exploring options through our membership review to allow non-members to play in competitions, as well as looking at working to create membership options through the Ping Pong Parlour and Ping! Initiatives. As with current member, it is important to offer people something relevant and of value to them as individuals.
The was a discussion about players wiping hands on the table. It was agreed this was unhygienic, but that it rested with individuals not to do it, until and unless the ITTF looks at the regulations around towel breaks.
We will reply individually to queries we received about contacting table tennis organisations in Japan and about players being affiliated to more than one county.
The next Question Time is planned for 3pm on Wednesday November 15 and we invite any member with a question or comment to make to join us. We also have a Members’ Open Forum on Monday November 27 at 6pm.
Keep an eye on the website for details of both events nearer the time.