updated 12:41 AM AEST, May 28, 2020

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Brian Burke: On The Ball | Time to take a tip from table tennis

Last week TTA came across an article asking whether all sports are going broke.

 

We contacted the journalist, Brian Burke, to advise that table tennis is well and truly bucking the trend. An article was published this morning, titled 'Time to take a tip from table tennis', highlighting TTA's strong turnaround and bright future.

 

Article Copied from The Maitland Mercury website:

This, I thought, was perhaps a cause for a little concern - a reader the week before had made it known that they were less than impressed with my reference to Our Saviour astride a Malvern Star - so I was guessing that, whatever this call was about, it wasn't going to be good.

It turned out my concern was misplaced. Scott Houston introduced himself as the CEO of Table Tennis Australia, which operates out of Adelaide, and he was calling to let me know that he'd read last week's column and that, contrary to my statement that all our sports are broke apart from horse racing, the Houston headed Table Tennis Australia has successfully navigated one of the great turnarounds in Australian sports administration and is currently in terrific shape.

It hasn't always been the case. When Houston took on the CEO role in 2017 TTA was in a hole to the tune of almost $650,000. "We were," he says, "perhaps six weeks from bankruptcy, receiving phone calls from liquidation companies, really on the brink."

Houston and his board put together a plan and, through a combination including select loans, donations and a pre-payment of fees system, managed to keep TTA solvent.

They overhauled the business model and made extensive operational changes to the organisation with the result being that, within two and a half years, and without any form of government bailout, TTA could happily declare that it was entirely debt free.

It has been described as 'one of Australia's most remarkable sporting administration success stories for a decade.'

"And," says Houston, "the successes around the board table have been mirrored on the playing table."

The statistics show this assessment to be completely correct.

Participation rates for Australian table tennis are at a record high with 168,000 official participants.

Keep in mind that that number refers only to 'registered' players - the members of the 200 or so affiliated national clubs. The estimates including people playing in social settings run upwards of a million, which puts table tennis well into the top ten of the most popular sports in Australia. We are also extremely internationally competitive with Australia having earned a full quota of playing spots for the Tokyo Olympics.

An important part of TTA's success has been the instigation of what are proving to be very effective grass roots approaches. Their Sporting Schools Program had 16,000 kids go through it last year, with estimates of 48,000 kids playing at school. The entry level 'Spinneroos' program is also aimed at getting kids playing early.

At the other end of the spectrum, the benefits of playing table tennis, both physical and mental, amongst the elderly have long been noted and Houston is working on various ways to encourage the playing of the sport in aged care facilities.

There is also the acknowledgement of table tennis being played in various work places, particularly in the tech industries. TTA runs the 'Corporate Cup' competition for these players.

Bluntly, table tennis in Australia is going gangbusters; so well that even under the current Corona crisis - the situation that has so easily brought pretty much all of our other sporting bodies undone - Houston notes that TTA is in a position that, at this stage, it does not anticipate any cuts to staff or their hours, and no salary reductions.

Scott Houston was a professional table tennis player. He was a national representative and spent years with the sport internationally playing with clubs in Germany, Austria and China. He did a great deal of coaching and was later a development officer.

The point? Table tennis is a sport where the person currently running it has played it at elite level and knows, inside and out, how the whole thing works. It is a personal bugbear of mine that so few of our others are similarly helmed. The contrast of their fortunes with the accomplishment of TTA should probably be a lesson learned by somebody.

 

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Last modified onMonday, 25 May 2020 11:32

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