06 Apr 2021

Encouraging everyone to try the sport of table tennis, it is the underlying theme of World Table Tennis Day; it is about providing opportunities, particularly for those who find themselves in difficult situations, refugees are of particular importance.

by Ian Marshall

One person who very much answers the call for help is Mark Smith. Dedicated to say the least, recently when table tennis sessions had to be curtailed owing to Covid-19, he found the answer, head for the beach and keep fit.

Hailing from Bradford in the north of England; a player of note he travelled far and wide, playing table tennis, in particular coaching in such countries as Nepal and India.

In 2018 from absolutely nothing, he started Ping Pong Alkmaar. He hires a hall from the local council and pays by the hour for the use of the premises.

Most significantly, he caters for refugees, his application to the ITTF Foundation gaining the support of the Dream Building Programme.

“It is the biggest challenge I’ve faced, to go from nothing to a fully comprehensive club that is multinational; the aim is to achieve this target in four years. We have players from many different countries, India in particular at the moment; also, our young Dutch players have learnt English very quickly and are now fluent, that’s been an added bonus.” Mark Smith

Last year during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in March, the Netherlands suffered rather less than most but there was a three-week period when the club was forced to close.

However, just as now, the break did not mean a postponement of activities; a Zoom call was organised with the coaches at the Za’atari Refugee Camp located in northern Jordan on the Syrian border. Youssef Alsalama, only 15 years old, a Syrian refugee present in Alkmaar, proved a most efficient interpreter.

Close links with Jordan; most significantly, there are close links with the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA) in Heerhugowaard. Resident at the centre with his wife and young daughter is Iran’s Abbas Ramezani, an engineer by profession who has a strong sporting background.

Abbas Ramezani played baseball at national level and is a former member of the Iranian junior national table tennis team. Thus, he is proving a great asset in Alkmaar. He attends four or five evening sessions per week, his enthusiasm never waning!

“I’m really pleased to come to the Netherlands, everybody has been welcoming.” Abbas Ramezani

Welcoming, music to the ears, the spirit of World Table Tennis Day.

General News Mark Smith