Will Bayley has won the Male Para Player of the Year for 2023 at the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) Awards held in Busan, Korea Republic.

The 36-year-old former Paralympic champion added the European title last September to the World title he won in Spain in 2022 and is the first British player to be honoured at the prestigious award ceremony that was first held in 2013.

“I’m so amazed, surprised and delighted to win this award,” said Bayley, who is inspiring a new generation of young players at Brighton Table Tennis Club, including 13-year-old Bly Twomey who won bronze in the European Championships last year.

“I couldn’t have done this without so many people – my family, my coaches, my sponsors, British team head coach Andrew Rushton and performance director Gorazd (Vecko). I’ve had so many ups and downs in my career, but they’ve always believed in me.

“Thank you to everyone who decided I should win this award and I want to thank my younger self – that little boy who went through so much and never gave up and that is what is keeping me going today.  Maybe I’m an old man now but I still feel like that little boy who kept fighting and I definitely want to thank him for never giving up because it has given me the inspiration to carry on and reach the pinnacle of my sport. Thank you so much. There is more to come – Let’s Go Paris.”

Born with arthrogryposis, a rare congenital disorder that affected all four of his limbs, Bayley underwent numerous operations at Great Ormond Street Hospital from the age of three months old. He returned to Great Ormond Street for chemotherapy when he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma at the age of seven and it was while recovering from cancer that his grandmother bought him a table tennis table. The rest, as they say, is history.

Having made his Paralympic debut in Beijing 2008 Bayley won his first major title at the European Championships in 2011 then took silver in London 2012 and followed that by becoming world champion in 2014 and Paralympic champion in 2016.

In 2019 he won the hearts of the nation as a contestant on BBC TV’s Strictly Come Dancing and recovered from a serious knee injury to compete in Tokyo in 2021, taking silver in the men’s class 7 singles and the men’s class 6-7 team event.

In 2022 he was unbeaten in singles as he regained both the world No 1 ranking and the world title, taking gold in the men’s class 7 singles in Spain, and continued his unbeaten run last year taking gold in Slovenia and the USA before winning his second European singles title in Sheffield.

Bayley leaping into the arms of his performance director and coach Gorazd Vecko after securing a singles medal became one of the most iconic images of the London 2012 Paralympic Games and the Slovenian was in his corner again when he won gold in Rio 2016.

“I’m so proud of him and British Para table tennis is proud of him,” said Vecko. “We are so fortunate to have an athlete like him in our sport and our programme and he deserves this award because of his hard work and dedication to Para table tennis. He has achieved everything – gold in the Paralympics, the World Championships and the European Championships – and he is inspiring the next generation.

“We should also not forget that when he was injured competing in Strictly Come Dancing a lot of people said he should finish, and he would never play again but he came back to be in two finals in Tokyo – what an achievement. He is world No 1 again, world and European champion and is looking for another singles gold in Paris – he is a real inspiration to everyone in Para table tennis in the UK and around the world.”

Bayley was unable to attend the ceremony as he is preparing for the ITTF Astana Para Open in Kazakhstan, which starts on Friday, and the award was accepted on his behalf by Philip McCallum, European Director of the Commonwealth Table Tennis Federation and BPTT Board Member.