by Kabir Nagpal & Netina Latu (Tonga Table Tennis Federation)
It was a milestone moment for a part of the world where development is the watchword.
The Tonga Table Tennis Federation (TTTF) is an incorporated sporting body under the direction of the government of Tonga Ministry of Trade and Economic Development. It is affiliated to the Tonga National Sports Association and the National Olympic Committee, whilst also being a member of ITTF-Oceania.
Hasiloni Fungavai is the President, Netina Latu the Chief Executive Officer.
Established in 1999 and organised under a Board of Directors, TTTF recruited a Chief Executive Officer in August 2018 to look after day to day running and the implementation of a Strategic Plan for the period 2018 to 2020. The plan is based on providing inclusive table tennis programmes and activities for all members of the community regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, ability, age or sexual orientation.
Notably, TTTF receives support from the Australian government through the Pacific Sports Partnership Programme, ITTF and ITTF-Oceania. Through the Developing a National Association (DNA) initiative, three full time staff are now employed to deliver the Smash Down Barriers Programme and Bounce it Back.
“TTTF has grown over the last two to three years and has successfully made table tennis one of the better governed sport in the country. Much of the development we’ve seen is partially due to separation of duties from within the Board and the Chief Executive Officer acting as head of operations. There is close co-oporation between the Chief Executive Officer and the TTTF Board. ITTF-Oceania plays a key role in providing support and guidance especially with policies and governance matters for the Federation.” Hasiloni Fungavai
The Smash Down Barriers programme is focused on six disability centres on the main Island of Tongatapau; Bounce it Back activities are designed for schools and community groups using table tennis to promote social inclusion.
Several development activities have taken place through the ITTF Continental Development Programme, such as ITTF – PTT Level One coach education and basic umpire courses which at the end of 2019 was extended to the outer islands of ‘Eua and Ha’apai.
“We will continue to see great things and many lives changed, we have the capacity to continue to nurture this great sport to bring people together, to be inspired to be better citizens.” Netina Latu
In June 2018 Tonga hosted an ITTF-Oceania tournament, before in November of the same year sending 12 players between the ages of 11 and 26 years to Kunmin Province China for two months intensive training. The initiative was part of the Tonga / China Government Technical Training Programme. Eleven other sports benefitted from the concept.
Significantly, a second phase was also staged in Kunmin between December 2019 and January 2020.
Meanwhile, in May 2019 para athletes participated at the Oceania Para Championships in Darwin Australia, later in July alongside two able bodied players at the Pacific Games in Samoa.
In addition with qualification for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games in mind, Siaosi Vaka competed at the Royal Thai Para Championship in Bangkok in August 2019. Soon after players attended tournaments in Fiji and in Auckland, New Zealand.
Siaosi Vaka discovered table tennis as a result of being involved in a car accident some 15 years ago. The Smash Down Barriers Programme enabled Siaosi to play regularly; in May 2019 he won two bronze medals at the Oceania Para Championships in Darwin, followed by silver medal and bronze in November at the New Zealand Para Championships.
Highly motivated Siaosi now assists with development initiatives.
“I want people living with a disability to discover their passions in life and work with that passion to make positive influences and contribution to the community. ” Siaosi Vaka
Success for Siaosi Vaka; his efforts and example reflect the spirit that is now witnessed in Tonga.
“We are grateful for the financial support from the government of Tonga and the Tonga National Olympic Committee towards hosting events and assistance towards international participation. We are delighted to assist and see Siaosi Vaka a para player develop his skill set whereby he is now involved as a development officer and coach to deliver the Bounce it Back program in schools.” Hasiloni Fungavai
The result of the efforts is that promising young players are emerging; most notably 13 year old Melekaufusi Maryanne Cocker Fungavai who has been playing table tennis for four years.
A member of the 2019 Oceania Hopes Team, Fungavai was a member of the group that attended training camps in China in both late 2019 and early 2020.
Experience gained, the aim is to win a Pacific title; the goal is within reach.