by Simon Daish
Humble beginnings and inspirational figures
Three-time European Championships medallist, Sweden’s Matilda Ekholm is one of the top ranked players from Europe but for her the journey to becoming a professional athlete started in the humble surroundings of a village in what was a magical era of Swedish table tennis.
“I grew up in a small village where there was only table tennis and football, so I played both! Obviously, I was inspired by all the successful swedes at that time in the early 90’s.” Matilda Ekholm
One of Ekholm’s European Championships medals was won alongside Galia Dvorak, a player who grew up with big shoes to fill with both of her parents having been international competitors. The Spanish athlete recollects her mother telling her about China’s Deng Yaping, a three-time World Champion who Dvorak chose to model herself on.
“My parents were professional players so I grew up watching them compete and it is clear that both were a great inspiration to me. In addition, my mother was a coach of the national team and told me a lot about Deng Yaping who at that time was the best player in the world. Deng Yaping had a game scheme similar to mine which made me dream to get to be as good as she was.” Galia Dvorak
Austria’s Sofia Polcanova, the highest ranked European player on the Women’s World Rankings list, Czech star Hana Matelova and recently crowned CCB 2019 Europe Top 16 Cup Champion Petrissa Solja, Germany, all had fathers who inspired them while five-time Welsh National Singles Champion Charlotte Carey’s inspiration came from her Grandfather.
“I started spontaneously but my father played table tennis as well, then he became my coach. When I was young I didn’t have any table tennis idols, but I liked to watch Vladimir Samsonov play.” Sofia Polcanova
“Actually, I have never had an idol in my table tennis career. I started to play because of my dad and older brother.” Hana Matelova
“I was inspired by my dad Pavel and later by Vladimir Samsonov, but unfortunately no women.” Petrissa Solja
“I was inspired by my Grandfather to start playing table tennis, he always played and still does to this day. We have always been really close, so I begged him to take me and I loved the sport ever since…” Charlotte Carey
Importance of International Women’s Day
As mentioned in my introduction International Women’s Day isn’t just a day of celebration but also an opportunity to discuss and understand the difficulties and injustices many women are still exposed to in everyday life, an issue that Britt Eerland, one of the biggest names on the Dutch table tennis scene, feels is important to highlight.
“I’m happy it’s International Women’s Day, specifically for the sports ladies because I think that women’s sports is still less accepted, admired, less supported on the money side and is featured less on social media compared to men’s sports so it’s good that it gets extra attention… In everyday life there’s still a lot of things like “oh you’re a woman, you can’t do this or you have to behave like this” and we are moving away from that but it is still good to have this day to reflect.” Britt Eerland
Eerland’s sentiments are echoed by Matilda Ekholm and Galia Dvorak, who emphasize the importance of International Women’s Day as an important step on the pathway to equality.
“It is a very important day to remind each and every one of us that women still don’t have the same rights as men globally. Thankfully it is getting better, but until we live in an equal society it remains an important day.” Matilda Ekholm
“In some countries Women’s Day is a celebration but I’m glad in Spain is not: it is a day to remind us of the discrimination and inequality that still continues to plague our society. That is why it’s celebration is important, so we can give visibility to the women’s contribution to our lives and continue working towards shaping a better future.” Galia Dvorak
For Charlotte Carey International Women’s Day is an important time for women in sport where steps can be made to bring parity between male and female athletes.
“I think it’s great there’s an official International Women’s Day, but honestly I believe that we shouldn’t need just one day of the year to celebrate women. In sport I especially believe men and women should have equal rights and pay! When there’s the same rules, the same amount of players and same circumstances there should be no excuse for women to be paid less, treated worse or get less coverage.” Charlotte Carey
Petrissa Solja was also keen to highlight the importance of pushing women’s sport but isn’t a huge fan of celebrating one day in particular.
“Of course women in sports and table tennis are from my point of view very important, but I’m not a big fan of these kind of “celebration” days.” Petrissa Solja
International Women’s Day for many also represents a day of empowerment, a day where we celebrate all the amazing and inspiring moments brought about by women across the globe, a point that resonates deeply with Sofia Polcanova.
“I think this is a very important day, because on this day we celebrate the great success of women across all spheres of life. This day honours the women power, it is a special day dedicated only to women and that is nice.” Sofia Polcanova
Interested in sport? Then give it a go
If you’re thinking about taking up table tennis or any other sport for that matter, but you’re maybe on the fence a little then this group of international stars have a message for you: Go out and give it a try. You might enjoy yourself and it’s a great way to boost your fitness and help maintain a healthy lifestyle.
“Sport has a huge potential to empower you. If you start playing regularly you will see how you become faster, stronger, better… and is a great lift for self-esteem and confidence.” Galia Dvorak
“I think everyone should be involved in some kind of sport or physical activity… Table tennis is a great sport to be involved in at any level. It’s a brilliant inclusive sport as any level, age, gender, weight and of any ability/disability can play… I think for all women, whether it’s a walk, a run, a game of table tennis or game of rugby – it’s so important for mental health and well-being to do some kind of physical activity.” Charlotte Carey
Alongside the health benefits Britt Eerland also highlights the social aspect of table tennis while both she and Hana Matelova agree that enjoying yourself and having fun is, above all, the most important thing.
“If women specifically are thinking of playing table tennis, just do it! In my life I practised mostly with men but I enjoyed it so that shouldn’t be a point to feel hesitant about. Just play a game and just enjoy it and if you enjoy it enough you can try to become a professional player… It’s good for the health, it’s good for the social connections so I think it’s important not only for women but everybody!” Britt Eerland
“The most important thing is to enjoy it and have fun with table tennis, it doesn’t matter if it’s just a hobby or a professional career to you – Happy International Women’s Day, ladies!!!” Hana Matelova
We here at the ITTF hope that this article celebrating International Women’s Day 2019 has inspired you in some way shape or form. Sport is for all regardless of age, religion, sexual orientation or gender so why not give it a go – who knows, one day you could be a professional athlete!
On a personal note I would like to thank all of the featured players: Matilda Ekholm, Galia Dvorak, Sofia Polcanova, Charlotte Carey, Hana Matelova, Britt Eerland and Petrissa Solja for taking the time to talk. So from myself and the entire ITTF family we would like to wish each and every one of you a Happy International Women’s Day!!!