Table Tennis

Table Tennis in 2017

1 April 2017

Table Tennis in 2017

Following on from recent conversations and meetings, I thought that it would be helpful to me to put my current thoughts in writing to try to make sense of things. The views expressed in this report are based on my perspective as a player, administrator, Sussex Veteran’s Secretary and National Councillor and Chair of the National Council. The views are not representing anybody else or any entity and I make no apology for them.

As a player, my season has been fragmented as I had an operation on my wrist in October. So I played in September, restarted in November for a week and then for the last week in December and then constantly since New Year. As ever, my season has been littered with embarrassing defeats with the occasional notable victory. My wrist could be blamed for some of the earlier results, but now it is difficult to warrant, other than a loss of forehand power. It really is back to my own attitude and brain power, which all too often let me down.

However, I have played in County Championships for Sussex, Veterans’ British League for Foresters, Senior British League for Horsham Blades, Brighton League for Hollingbury, Crawley League for Blades, Eastbourne League for Bishopstone, Hastings League for Tigers, Colchester League for Pegasus, London Banks and Civil Service League for NatWest and London Central League for NatWest Exiles. I have tried to limit my play to two or three nights per week, so my appearances in some of those divisions, particularly as I have missed part of the season, has been limited

The only tournament that I have entered this season is the Sussex Closed. Last year, I entered the VETTS events in Crawley, Thornbury (I was tournament organiser) and the Nationals in Wolverhampton. I have not entered league events as historically I have not enjoyed them for various reasons.  

I also have the County Umpire badge and Tournament Organiser 1 qualifications. I have not had time to umpire at any events other than the World Championship of Ping Pong and have not organised any tournaments.

As Sussex Veteran’s Secretary, I have been running the second and third teams as they are in the same division. In previous years, the problems have been fielding women for the teams. This season, I have had a choice and rightly or wrongly, stuck to the same two ladies to give them experience playing at county level. The main problem has been getting men to play. I started the season with a list of players that would be likely to win the division by a street. However, injuries, players barred as they played in the first team weekend and simply unavailability have meant that the teams have been significantly weaker than I expected. I gave everybody dates at the beginning of the season and got various people saying they were available. Only to have them drop out. Obviously, playing for the county is not considered to be much of an honour these days.

I have attended most of the Sussex management meetings and produced reports for the meetings relating to my duties as Veterans’ Secretary and National Councillor. I have made a point in supporting as many local leagues as possible to give me a first-hand view of the divisions around the county.

As Chair of National Council, I chaired the meeting in November, but missed the meeting in January as I was officiating at the World Championship of Ping Pong. In the run up to meetings, I have liaised with Jonathan Bruck to set the agenda for the meetings. 

I attended a meeting with Jonathan, Sandra Deaton and Sara Sutcliffe in August to discuss the future running of the National Council. I attended a meeting of the steering group in March relating to the new Governance Code and also had a meeting with Jonathan, Sandra and Sara in March to discuss the Governance Code and future running of the National Council. It is these recent meetings that have prompted this note. 

National Council

I first attended in 2008. I remember looking around the room and wondering whether anybody was fewer than 20 years older than me. I caused a bit of a stir shortly into the meeting by questioning why a massive wodge of papers was sent out to everybody rather than by email. This was met with a groan as this issue had obviously been suggested previously and rejected by all those people who did not want to print out their own copies. Silly newbie!  

This largely set the tone of my attendance over the years. Invariably being a nuisance with modern ideas. I noticed fairly early on that very few people ever stood up to ask questions. It was always the same few people. The rest seemed to be a murmuring or silent majority. This still bugs me that people turn up every 3 months simply to listen, mutter and vote. Thus recently, since I was elected to chair the meetings, I have tried to move the meetings into smaller focussed groups to discuss topics to try to wring out some opinions from a wider range of people.

The National Council has been the place where all the power within the ETTA has rested. The chairman of the ETTA would chair the meeting and all the decisions for the running of table tennis in England. The staff of the ETTA would report to elected officers who were volunteers and part of the administrative regime of the Chairman.

The upshot of this was a constant stream of different ideas that often involved dismantling structures set up by the previous regime. New initiatives that would be put in place, often without much planning and then shelved because they did not work or somebody else had a new idea. 

The Board

This changed following the Portas Report, which recommended the setting up of a Board of TTE to be the decision-making body taking the power from the National Council. The board was constituted of 3 elected directors – the Chair (Sandra Deaton), Deputy Chair (Susie Hughes) and Treasurer (Keith Thomas) and 8 appointed directors including the Chief Executive Officer, Sara Sutcliffe. 

The board is a unitary body with all the directors having a similar standing. Therefore, theoretically the Chair or CEO could simply be outvoted by the other directors, if they cannot achieve agreement on their own opinion on any planned actions.  

However, I understand that some of the board members are only interested in certain subjects eg. Children and safeguarding, regulations, officials, veterans and therefore express little or no opinion on many of the wider range of subjects that need to be discussed and decided upon at board meetings. 

The fact that there is encouragement that some of the board members are independent stems from the current political distrust of “experts”. Whilst this should give a wider view on subjects, not being drawn to the narrow view of self-interest, it also means that some decisions are being made by people who are unlikely to understand the consequences of the decision on the members.

This was accepted by National Council as it was presented as a fait accompli because TTE would lose its funding from Sport England. So the articles of association were changed to enable this, although some power was still left with National Council to ratify any further changes to the structure of the running of the sport. Any further changes need 75% support from National Council. 

The most recent Code of Governance produced by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and distributed by Sport England has brought out some changes that are designed to bring any entities receiving public funding into line with any corporate structure to ensure the continued running of sports in this country.

Appointed Chair

In the future, according the recently published code of Governance, the Chair is to be an appointed director. The appointment would be subject to a normal recruitment and selection procedure and open to application from anybody not just table tennis people. The chair could still be an appointed director, but would need to go through the full recruitment process.

The members are still able to elect 3 directors. These would continue to represent the interests of the members to the board.

This has met with opposition from members of the steering group because they feel that if they cannot elect the Chair, this is not democratic. They felt that the elected directors should have specific titles and seniority within the board to enable them to get the points of their mandate enacted. 

This would possibly return the board back to the days of the game being run by a few strong-willed people, which seems to be considered to be preferable to some National Councillors than the current consensus operations within the unitary board.



As time has gone by, I have doubts about the merits of democracy. Historically, it is considered that democracy leads to fairer decisions as a result of a wide poll. Most recently, this has led to largely irrational results, such as Jeremy Corbin, Donald Trump, Brexit etc. Whether these results end up positively will be judged by history in future. We live in interesting times, which ironically is an ancient Chinese curse “may you live in interesting times!” 

Democracy within table tennis is fairly prevalent with clubs, leagues and counties all run by committees and now TTE is run by the Board.

Ironically, the National Council baulked at the ultimate democracy of “one vote per member” in favour of keeping the majority of the voting power with National Councillors. The reason for this was that the members may not understand the complexities involved in some issues. God forbid, that table tennis members should be asked to vote on issues with the amount of misdirection and misinformation and misunderstanding that surrounded the Brexit vote.

Democracy is really bad news when you vote on the side that loses. 

Council Tenure

The recent Code of Governance has a mandatory requirement that council members can only serve a maximum of 9 years (3 x 3 year terms) or 8 years (2 x 4 year terms). This is the requirement for Tier 3 organisations that receive more than £1 million of public money.  

The requirement for Tier 1 (receiving less than £250,000) is that the 8/9-year term is ideal, but not mandatory. Councillors simply need to be up for election regularly. This is currently the case within TTE as Councillors are theoretically re-elected each year. 

The FA has run into criticism regarding it being run by a lot of “old white men in grey suits” who were set in their ways and not moving with the times. The investigation is still ongoing in this respect.

If this is to be accepted with TTE, it would mean that a high number of councillors would no longer be allowed to attend in future as the term is being counted retrospectively.  

TTE is fully aware that there are many councillors who offer useful feedback and guidance and therefore would be missed if they were no longer attending. It is able to keep their services by offering roles on various committees according to their special interests and expertise. 

Obviously, many councillors have already served many years. They are re-selected by their counties year after year, possibly because they agree to continue or in some cases their counties would have difficulty replacing them. 

There is anecdotal evidence of at least one National Councillor how found that he could not get onto National Council for his own county as there was an incumbent National Councillor, who wanted to continue in the role. So he went to the next county and now represents that county at National Council. Interestingly, he is strongly in favour of allowing Councillors to remain in office beyond 9 years. The irony of this stance is obviously lost on him.  

History – reducing participation

Over the past 30 years, participation in table tennis has reduced year on year. Various regimes within the framework of the National Council have overseen this and other issues without addressing the issues. The financial state of the ETTA has similarly been allowed to deteriorate. 

On the participation figures, I think that we can all name 20 players who are/were premier division, county or even national standard in each county. Over 50 counties, that is 1,000 top level players that no longer play.

Most leagues have lost at least 4 divisions. In 1980, I was playing in Woolwich League that had 4 divisions and the London Banks League that had 8 divisions. The Woolwich League no longer exists and the London Banks struggles to run 2 full divisions. 

On the basis that each division has around 40 players in 12 teams. There are still over 260 leagues, which calculates to 160 (40 X 4) x 260 = 41,600 players that no longer play table tennis. This is a conservative estimate of figures.

If even half of these players were still playing, the membership figures would be 50,000 rather than the 28,000 that we have currently. 

So how can National Council claim that it successfully ran the sport for years?


Top players

An alternative count could be how many of our players are successful at European, Commonwealth, World or Olympic championships. Almost definitely not as successful as we were in the 1980s.  This may in part be due to the export of Chinese players around the globe and thus our Commonwealth chances are greatly reduced. But our players are still way behind the exploits of Desmond Douglas and Jill Parker. So we are not producing the same quality of players.

Our top players need to go abroad to get the quality of training to move them forward to compete internationally. This is sad because it means that our top players do not have time to compete in domestic events and also highlights the short-comings of our own training system that is unable to provide what the top players need.


Financially, it is arguable whether TTE is any better off than the ETTA used to be. Figures get bandied about and can be used to prove either side of this argument. The main issue is that TTE is no longer independent as it is heavily reliant upon Sport England funding to continue with its projects. But either way, over the years, investment in sustainable projects and assets within table tennis has not taken place, except in little spots where the local volunteers have had the wherewithal to arrange it. 

Buying into TTE

If I were looking at buying TTE as a commercial venture or trying to ascertain its value as a potential sponsor, my due diligence would include a detailed study of the assets of the company.

  • Premises – currently renting in Milton Keynes. No value. 
  • Equipment – TTE does not own anything other than a residual amount of table tennis equipment
  • Database – currently being assembled with a recently implemented Customer Relationship Management system (CRM). There are issues regarding the ownership of the database that is currently held within TT365 and for TTE to get full access to the data. 
  • Intellectual Property – possibly rights as National Governing Body
  • TT365 – not owned by TTE. No value
  • Ranking lists – held within TT365 – not owned by TTE
  • Clubs – no clubs owned by TTE 
  • Club database – not yet fully collected by TTE – potential value if and when complete. 
  • Membership – collected by TT365 – marketing potential, but information within TT365
  • Tournaments – grand prix events – run by TTE – profitability uncertain. 
  • County championships – run by volunteers – may be profitable – but minimal value 
  • British League – run by volunteers – anecdotally profitable – not owned by TTE 
  • VETTS – runs its own events – profitable – independent of TTE, even runs its own ranking lists. 
  • National Closed Tournament – run at a loss, could be marketing potential, but not at the moment 
  • World championship of Ping Pong (WCPP) – popular event, lots of television coverage, nothing to do with TTE and likely to be held in China in 2018.

National Closed Championship

The last two items on this list typify the short-comings of how things are currently managed. The National Closed Championship should be a celebration of all that is good in table tennis in England and showcase our best players battling for the top prizes. This year the entries were limited to the top 32 men and women. Even then, on looking at the draws, there were byes in the draws.  

The broadcast was by one camera streaming pictures available on the internet and there was apparently a couple of hours of coverage on ITV Mix at some time a couple of weeks after the event. I understand that the event was not well attended by a viewing audience in Nottingham. The quality of play that I saw was really not very high or particularly exciting.

There are no longer any events specifically for veteran players. This is a sad state of affairs, since veterans make up the majority of the membership.

In my opinion, it is the right of all members to take part on their closed event. This is the National championship and should be for everybody. The chances are that the best players would be taking part in the latter stages of the event anyway. Having lesser players provides the opportunity for the top players to sharpen up in the early rounds to prepare for the tougher matches later on. 

It is a crass decision to make our National Championship a limited entry event. If a limited entry event is needed, then it should be a separate event. Limiting the entries has the obvious issue that only a few people can play. I believe that some people refused to play as they were concerned about possibly losing ranking points. 

There used to be a regular English Open event as well as the Closed. This would draw in international players. I remember playing against Russian and Danish and Dutch international – at different events, as I never beat any of them! But I had the opportunity to play against them. I have also played against several top 10 players over the years. Now, I am no longer permitted to enter our National Closed event. 

World championship of Ping Pong

On the other hand, the WCPP would be described as a novelty event with people using sandpaper bats to make it more interesting. However, over the years it has gained in popularity with the field getting stronger each year. International players have been coming to London for this event each year. The event is professionally marketed, well-staged with capacity noisy crowds and is televised professionally and broadcast for around 12 hours on Sky Sports 2. A lot of people watch it on Sky and there is always a capacity crowd at the event. Because it is on Sky, non-table tennis people get the opportunity to watch it. 

The standard of play is fantastic with great rallies because the bats force the players to play strokes and the lack of spin means that players are not making errors against tricks. It is not everybody’s cup of tea as many people prefer “proper” table tennis, but it is much more watchable for the general public and accessible because it is on television rather than streamed on the internet and only watched by people who know that it is on – ie the table tennis community only. This is really the only televised table tennis event in England at this time.


Customer Relationship Management system (CRM)

This is a matter close to my heart as I was on the project for selection and implementation of the system. This was a slow process over several meetings and even then the staff seemed uncertain about how to go about setting the parameters for it. This was notwithstanding several scoping meetings and asking what information the staff needed to obtain from the system. 

The CRM is still in the process of being built up. Much of the old information about clubs, coaching and membership was incomplete or inaccessible. Up to the time of the installation of the CRM, most information was on disparate systems or simply on Excel spreadsheets. Most often, it was simply out of date. It seems to be a slow process to bring all the information up to a quality that it could be considered useful.

The CRM is used to contact the membership with regular emails produced. In March, I got a birthday greeting, which was nice. It would seem that the individual membership information is starting to become useful for marketing.

The coaching database is still being built up. Most recently, Sussex has been looking for an up to date list of coaches and the list available for TTE appears to be inaccurate – coaches that are not coaches or coaches that are coaching who are not on the list.

Democracy is really bad news when you vote on the side that loses.


This is the location of tables in public places around the country for members of the public to use. This is funding directly from Sport England, although it is administered within TTE. This initiative is good for participation figures. However, there is little evidence that the ability to play in public places has led to much, if any, extra membership of table tennis clubs. 

I remember having a meeting with Alex Murdoch when he was chair of the ETTA to discuss the success of the community circuit events that we were holding around Sussex. We had great participation around the county and this led to quite a few promising juniors coming through the system. At the time of our meeting, Alex Murdoch came along with a spreadsheet showing club membership figures and basically dismissed the circuit events as they had not led to increased club membership as evidenced on his information. This was rather dis-spiriting for us, but we knew that we had successful events and the membership filtered in over time.



This is the location of tables within business premises. Again, it is good for participation figures, but I am not aware that this has led to any increase in club membership or increased teams in local leagues.


Talent Pathway

This appears to be a good initiative giving structure to the development of players in certain areas. There is a growing number of Talent Development Centres. However, as far as Sussex is concerned, this event has no relevance since our local TDC is either somewhere in London or BATTs in Harlow, Essex. Neither of which are particularly helpful to anybody on the coast in Sussex.


Regions are possibly the filter between counties and TTE. There are examples of success and failure of various regions around the country. The main issue is that regions lack identity and history. Everybody understands and has allegiance to counties. Sussex, Kent and Surrey make up the South-East region, but has yet to start functioning properly. 

We have recently received notification that our Regional Development Officer (RDO) has been made redundant due to reduced funding. Our new RDO also covers London and Essex. It is unclear whether he is covering two regions or whether the South East region has been expanded to include London and Essex. Does London mean Middlesex or does it include the parts within the M25 of the other surrounding counties?

The South East region was introduced to us to get junior representatives from the region into a national qualifying event. But this was not accepted by Sussex because it had not been made aware of the plan and did not support it. This is still an ongoing issue. The organisation of the 3 counties is at different stages of development. Kent is struggling to assemble a management committee, whereas Sussex is well-organised. Surrey is somewhere in the middle, but I really cannot be sure.

It is logical that talent development goes from club, league, county to regional level before national level. But since there is no formally allotted regional development strategy, or a talent development centre in the region, it is difficult to see how this is going to happen. 

TTE has allotted money for the regions to use, but again this is nowhere near the magnitude of reserves held by the counties, leagues or clubs.  

Funding issues

I understand that the next round of funding is due to be granted and the continued support will be based on the satisfaction of all the requirements specified by Sport England. There is anecdotal evidence that sports that are not complying are not receiving their funding. The most recent sports under investigation are the FA in football for management structure issues and cycling for management behaviour issues. 

The structure issues in football relate to the committee being made up of “old white men in grey suits”. Long terms of service, no diversity and seemingly no consideration of various up to date issues. Football is in the fortunate position to not really require the funding as it has many commercial sources that it can rely upon. Still they are considering the necessary changes. This investigation is ongoing and any changes will need to be put to their members shortly and ratified at their AGM in June.

The cycling issues revolve around bullying, sexism and other unsavoury management practices. Cycling is rather more beholden to Sport England as its funding is around £17 million and it does not have the commercial clout of football.

Table Tennis England feels that it is “ahead of the curve” in compliance with the Code of Governance. However, the issue of terms of office of councillors and appointed directors are causing waves within the National Council. Theoretically, the NC could vote not to comply and this could jeopardise the funding from Sport England in the future. This is not really a route that we would want to experience, although it is an interesting exercise to consider how much damage this course might take. 

Running back to the various elements of our sport, my take on this would be as follows.


  • Membership – would need to replace the lost funding revenue or prioritise how money it can raise will be spent in the future.
  • Clubs – rely almost entirely on local volunteers. Any clubs that have had funding from TTE or via Sport England will have had their funding already and be largely unaffected. Some clubs may receive support from TTE, but this project is only just being launched. 
  • Leagues – run autonomously by local volunteers – would be unaffected by lack of centralised funding. Many leagues hold considerable reserves of money, which they currently do not spend.
  • Counties – run autonomously by local volunteers. Many counties have considerable reserves built up that they do not spend. But spend on their own projects and representative teams.
  • County championship – framework provided by TTE, but run by volunteers and funded by counties.
  • British League – run by volunteers, but feeds information into TTE. Profitable in its own right.
  • Grand prix events – administered by TTE, run by volunteers.
  • Ranking system – run by TT365
  • Membership system – run by TT365
  • VETTS – runs independently of TTE.
  • Talent pathway – run by TTE.
  • Coaching qualification and administration – run by TTE.
  • Officials and umpires – administered by TTE and volunteers, mainly volunteers.

Conflict of Interest

So it can be seen that if TTE were to lose funding, other than the overall framework and some of the administration, most members would be very largely unaffected in any way. The people most at risk from reduction or removal of funding would be the core costs of running TTE, which are staff costs and some administrative functions. 

This represents a huge conflict of interest. In that, the TTE staff are the ones who are applying for the funding and giving evidence of how the funding will be used, but are also the main beneficiaries of the money. 

Many members, particularly lower division local league players get nothing from TTE that cannot be provided on a local basis by their clubs, league or county. TTE provides the over-arching framework, but on a practical basis, nothing for quite a large number of its members.  These same people complain about the counties for the same reason. The counties only really provide the framework for the local leagues and the representative teams. Active counties also provide money for training and administer coaching and officials.


Public Relations

Of course, TTE could counter this with a Life of Brian “what have the Romans done for us?” type of list of things that it provides for its members. I have encouraged Sara and Sandra to produce a list of current projects. TTE really needs to smarten up its public relations to convince us all how much it is doing for us. Really to ensure that it represents value for the money that it receives from the members. As well as convincing Sport England that it deserves funding.

Funding from TTE comes down via grant applications. Now this is quite focussed. In Sussex, Brighton City TTC has received a lot of help because it has applied for it. It has an excellent public relations machine and is often in the local papers doing specific community-based projects. It achieves great things. But all the money going into the club is used internally, which is likely to be a requirement of the funding. Therefore, only the club members benefit.

I had a conversation with a colleague recently about the fact that nobody else in Sussex gets any grant money from TTE. I countered this with the fact that nobody else from Sussex has asked for any money! For all the staff that it recruits, TTE has not yet recruited a mind-reader. 

Sponsorship or donation

Due to the fact that TTE receives a high proportion of its income from Sport England, I believe that it has run into the same problem as animals bred in captivity. It has got out of the habit of generating its own income in the way that animals in captivity lose the ability to hunt. It seems to have difficulty in understanding that sponsorship is not a gift. A sponsor will look for some return on investment in order to consider sponsoring an event.

Recently, I understand that a sports kit distributor was asked to sponsor the National Closed event. He was asked for £5,000 for his name to appear on a barrier in the show court. He decided against doing this and was thankful that he had done so. When the event was streamed, the pictures were from one camera angle only and the only 3 barriers in prominent positions were those of PG Mutual, the main event sponsor, TTE and the University of Nottingham, which was the venue. So his barrier would not have appeared on any broadcast. His exposure would have been limited to people actually in attendance, of which there was not a great number and presumably only those who were on the right side of the court to see that barrier.

TTE needs to consider what it can do for sponsors in order to generate the money from them. It needs to spend more time considering how it can fit into the sponsoring marketing plans, rather than simply raising money for its own use. A sports chain was looking for help in organising events in line with aggressive growth of stores planned in the UK. The store was looking to promote itself and encourage people into its planned store openings. I understand that it chose not to work with TTE as TTE was asking for too much money.  It still intends to run its events, but without help from TTE.


Likewise, when considering volunteers, it does not factor in any loss of income to those volunteers, when they are doing things for TTE. I have been to several meetings with TTE. Whilst, my travel expense is always paid by TTE, there is no consideration that my time given up is time in which I am earning no money. I went to several meetings regarding the CRM, which were days out of my working time and I realised looking around the room that I was the only there not earning any income whilst attending. I volunteered my time and was happy to do so.

Volunteers are the lifeblood of any sport. Without volunteers most clubs, organisations and events would simply cease to exist. Thus, the NGB needs to treat these people with respect and look after them very carefully. Sadly, this has not always been the case. Once the goodwill has been lost, the volunteer is likely to be lost.


Whilst this report may seem to be rather negative, there are a lot of positives within the game and I am still keen to help in whatever way I can to move matters forward in the sport.     

TTE needs to improve its public relations and be more open about the plans and projects that are going on. It needs to be much better at giving out a message to its membership that it provides value for money, is relevant to the membership and makes a difference. 

Volunteers are the lifeblood of any sport. Without volunteers most clubs, organisations and events would simply cease to exist.