Table Tennis England Vice-President Gorazd Vecko has been honoured by his home nation of Slovenia with a Friend of Para Sport award for his contribution to table tennis.

The award was presented jointly by the Slovenian Government and National Paralympic Committee in recognition for his work as Tournament Director of the Slovenia Para Open for 20 years and his achievements with British Para Table Tennis as Performance Director since 2009.

Since the Slovenia Open was first held in Lasko in 2003 it has become the leading Para table tennis tournament in the world outside of the major championships.

“My vision was to have a tournament to get international players to come to Slovenia, because we didn’t have the funding to go to tournaments,” said Vecko, who was inspired to become involved in table tennis by his father Edward, the two-time World champion and six-times European champion.

“It’s been the biggest Para tournament in the world for the last 12 years, with more than 350 players and 55 to 60 countries, including China, Korea, Japan and Australia. Lasko is a village with 2,500 people, so to get all the players there is amazing.”

Since taking over as Performance Director of British Para Table Tennis Vecko has built strong links between his home country and the British squad, with regular training camps held in Lasko in addition to the tournament.

“The Slovenia Open is like a home tournament for the British team and we can have good preparation there before the tournament starts,” he said.

“During lockdown, we were able to open the hotel near the sports hall and have just 25 people there so the athletes could train when they were not able to train in England. We’ve had a lot of help from Slovenia for our Performance and Pathway programmes which has been extremely valuable.”

Vecko started coaching in 1999 and coached Mateja Pintar to win the first Paralympic gold medal for Slovenia in women’s table tennis at Athens 2004. He took over from his father as Performance Director of the Slovenian Para table tennis team and was recruited in 2009 by British Para Table Tennis following a disappointing performance by the sport in Beijing where it failed to medal.

The rest, as they say, is history. Four medals in London 2012 were followed by gold for Rob Davies (men’s class 1) and Will Bayley (men’s class 7) in Rio before the best performance by a British squad at a Paralympic Games with seven medals in Tokyo.

Vecko was presented with his award by the Japanese ambassador to Slovenia at a dinner in Brdo, attended by the President and eight government ministers.

“I’m very proud to get this recognition from Slovenia,” he said. “It’s a special award and I’m so happy to have been part of the development of Para table tennis in my home country and in Britain over the last 20 years.”