Will Sweden become another Chinese Satellite?

Rowden Fullen (2001)

There are a great many Chinese involved overall in European table tennis both as players and as coaches/trainers. In some countries almost the whole national team consists of Chinese-born players, the German women’s team for example in recent years. A disturbing trend in Sweden is the increasing number of foreign players not only in both the men’s and women’s elite divisions (over 50% in the women’s and over 40% in the men’s) but in the lower divisions too. It would appear that in a few years time in line with other countries in Europe, Sweden may well come to rely on foreign players in the national side, especially with the continuing erosion of our playing levels.One aspect that may well speed up our reliance on foreign players is that quite a number of our good younger players both men and women appear to be of the opinion that opportunities to develop and earn good money are rather limited in Sweden. As a result they are now playing in other countries in Europe and are consequently lost to our own national series. It is also sad to see a number of players still in their mid to late teens giving up or drifting down to lower divisions. In general the standards of our table tennis in Sweden appear to be drifting downhill at in increasingly faster rate year by year. The possibility that we are well on the way to becoming a mere ‘social or fun’ sport becomes nearer to reality day by day.

The Swedish Association makes positive noises generally and particularly talks about the Swedish women making an impact on the world scene. Their document for the future is ambitious and forward looking. However Köping is only one small cog in the total development plan. And without massive help from the clubs and districts real progress is going to be very limited. Where are the top players supposed to come from if not from the clubs and districts?

Many clubs are unfortunately quite narrow-minded and very parochial in outlook, are not in favour of cooperating with other clubs in training ventures or working to improve levels in their area. Many districts are equally backward, tournaments are seen to be more important than training and keeping the clubs happy more important than developing players to their full potential. If we are to develop it is paramount that leaders and administrators are the first to be inspired and imaginative, not the last.

It is quite obvious that in many areas it is impossible to develop high level players in the clubs — there is just not the expertise and sparring available. It becomes therefore a real priority that the districts become involved in running training for players (and not just in summer time) and also development courses for coaches and parents. This is especially vital in the case of girl players who are lesser in number, are more spread out over the clubs and almost always require more specialized and individual handling.

Fortunately in Sweden we find one of the best club systems in the world, unfortunately almost all are traditionally insular. It seems that tradition is more important than ideas. Often it seems club priorities are more important than the development of players or even national considerations. Traditions are important, however, there is one inescapable fact of life, everything changes. Progress and development mean change. Resist change and try and stay as you are and stagnation sets in. Times are changing and we will almost certainly not produce the players of the future, with the methods of the past! Perhaps now is the time for the leaders and organizers in clubs and districts to move away from traditional avenues of thinking, be more flexible in attitude and less conventional in their approach to our sport.