Table tennis: Howieson angered by funding cut

Craig Howieson. Picture: Jane Barlow
Craig Howieson. Picture: Jane Barlow
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Glasgow 2014 was the highlight of Craig Howieson’s table tennis career.

Helping Scotland beat No.5 seeds Canada in the team event, the Edinburgh PE teacher had never experienced an atmosphere like it.

Barely seven months on and, as he prepares for tomorrow’s Scottish National Championships in Perth, Howieson admits Scotland’s top players are now left feeding on scraps from sport’s table. Don’t speak to him about a legacy from the Commonwealth Games.

Within weeks of the closing ceremony, the sport’s performance funding was cut by sportscotland and the Scottish Institute of Sport, and Hungarian national coach Marton Marsi had been paid off.

Scotland had the chance to build on the success of the Games – and Howieson believes the depth of talent in the game has never been greater – but there is little funding in place to take it to the next level.

“Glasgow 2014 was an amazing experience and there was a great atmosphere around at the time but it seems to have faded away,” the 25-year-old said.

“I must admit that the sportscotland and Scottish Institute of Sport support we received leading up to the Games was excellent. I would never bad-mouth the people I worked with on a one-to-one basis or on the table tennis programme.

“The support and the framework was excellent. But I don’t know who’s making the funding decisions and, in terms of those people, I don’t have much faith in them to do the right thing now.

“As a table tennis player, it feels like we’re being screwed over for working so hard despite the lack of funding and support we’ve had.

“We keep hitting the targets and keep getting screwed over.

“The official party line was that they weren’t cutting our funding, they just weren’t renewing it; they were only committed to funding us until beyond Glasgow 2014 and that was it.

“It’s pretty appalling. They paid off Marton, who was contracted to March and he had to leave at the end of November.

“They ceased all support from the Scottish Institute of Sport so all physio, strength and conditioning, etc was lost and they only kept the training programme until Christmas. However, I have a good relationship with Edinburgh University because of my time there and they have committed to continuing to support us at the Pleasance.

“We still have a training base but basically we are organising it ourselves with the help of Table Tennis Scotland.

“We still train every night. Li Chao has returned as national coach and he trains with us two nights a week but it’s a case of scraping money together to pay him.

“We basically lost all funding to go to tournaments after having a pretty successful Games. They’ve swept the carpet from underneath our feet.

“Not only did we have a good Games but, after it, I won my second British Grand Prix title in Newcastle and went up 150 places in the world rankings after beating five players ranked well ahead of me at the European Championships in September.

“Then we were given the news about the funding at the start of October so it’s pretty demoralising.

“It’s been a case of trying to keep the heads up and having the motivation to keep training hard.

“I still believe I have loads of room for improvement and Gavin Rumgay is still training hard and putting in the hours and young Chris Wheeler is coming through.

“I believe we could be serious medal contenders at the next Games. We managed fifth in Glasgow – why not invest in us?

“The investment we’re looking for is so minimal compared to what other sports get. We’re not asking for a lot, just to have continued support between Commonwealth Games cycles.”

What has been doubly frustrating for Howieson is the way that players south of the Border are now making an impact on the world game after having enjoyed decent funding.

“England have a really strong team now and they’ve been able to do that because they have invested in their players from a young age,” he said.

“They’ve been in a position where their players could afford to go abroad and live and train full-time and they are now reaping the benefits.

“When I was 18, I had beaten Paul Drinkhall and Liam Pitchford and now they are 30 and 40 in the world and making huge money because they’ve had the investment and time put into them.”

A sportscotland spokesperson said: “sportscotland’s investment into Table Tennis Scotland increased by 25 per cent from 2011-13 to 2013-15, and during that time period the sportscotland institute of sport additionally ran a bespoke in-house performance programme at the request of and on behalf of Tennis Table Scotland.

“This programme was specifically a Glasgow Commonwealth Games performance outcome and was always intended to end after the Games, which it did on October 31.

“The current investment cycle of 2011-15 is nearing an end, so we have been engaged in comprehensive dialogues with governing bodies, including Table Tennis Scotland, in recent months and will announce investment levels for upcoming years in the near future.”