Craig Howieson has gone back to his table tennis roots as he gears up for his third Commonwealth Games.
The Scottish No.2 is back training at the North Merchiston Club, which he first joined as a nine year-old, as he puts the finishing touches to his preparations for Gold Coast 2018.
Howieson, 28, has had to call in a lot of favours in recent months ahead of facing the best in the Commonwealth as table tennis has had NO performance funding since Scotland finished fifth against the odds at Glasgow 2014.
It would have been the ideal time for significant funds to be invested in the sport to see what Scotland could achieve but instead Howieson has been left deeply frustrated at the lack of support.
“When other sports talk about no funding, they still have a national coach. Table tennis has no national coach and no performance funding. After Glasgow, it seemed to be a case of the sport ceases to exist now the Games are over,” he states.
“For two years before Glasgow, we had some funding. It wasn’t great and was a drop in the ocean compared to other sports but it was good for us as we hadn’t experienced that level of funding before and we had lots of good personnel on board. We had physio support and performance managers who had set up a really good system which was as professional as it could be at that level of funding.
“That was all we wanted – we didn’t expect them to put millions in when we’re all at the stage of our careers where we have day jobs. But we expected more than zero pounds invested when we are sacrificing so many different things in our life for the privilege of competing for Scotland at the Commonwealth Games.
“You would think we could get some support in some form – at least a national coach – at some time in the run-up to the Games.
“In the lead up to Glasgow, everyone’s ranking was improving and the system was working but, as soon as the Games were over, we just got cut.
“I get that Scotland think they cannot win medals in table tennis but there are all of these other agendas and you have go start somewhere.
“Actually, the Commonwealth Games is one of the biggest deals for Scotland. There, we have a realistic chance of a medal if we had decent support.
“We showed a lot of promise at the Games in Delhi in 2010 and then the carpet was pulled from under our feet and the same thing happened after Glasgow.
“For us, as athletes, it’s infuriating, disappointing and demoralising. You wonder why we are getting such a lack of support compared to other sports.”
Howieson, a PE teacher at Broughton High, has recovered from a shoulder problem that has plagued him for the last year when he had to pay his own physio bills at £45.00 a time until receiving treatment from the Scottish Institute of Sport in recent weeks as part of Team Scotland.
He is indebted to Edinburgh University for providing him with training facilities over the past five years – “If it hadn’t been for them, who knows where we’d have been able to train?” – and to his school for giving him a month off to prepare for the Games.
Richard Yule, the chief operations officer at Table Tennis Scotland and Scotland’s most-capped player in any sport, has used his extensive contacts to set up a training camp for Howieson and his Scotland team-mates at the renowned Borussia Dusseldorf club this week and next.
“It’s one of the best in Europe,” Howieson continues. “We’ll not be playing against their first-team as they are German international players who are top 20 in the world and earning a fortune from the game but we’ll be in a training group with some of the German national junior squad. It’ll really sharpen us up before the Games.
“We qualified for the Games ranked fifth. I can guarantee that every other team in the top eight will have at least two or three full-time players, if not more. The top four will have four or five full-time players.
“We’re expected to try and compete. It’s unbelievable that we’ve qualified given the criteria and the fact there’s been no investment.
“But we won a bronze medal in the Commonwealth Championships in 2013 and narrowly missed out in the championships in 2015 when we had match point for a medal.
“Depending on the draw, I think we have as good a chance as we’ve ever had of winning a medal at the Games.”