The stars of British Para table tennis will have a rare opportunity to compete in front of a home crowd later this year when the UK hosts the 2023 ITTF European Para Table Tennis Championships. The tournament will be held at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield, which is also the training base for the British Para Table Tennis Team, and will provide an opportunity to secure qualification for the Paralympic Games in Paris next year.
World champion Will Bayley will be hoping to regain the European title that he last won in 2011 and the Brighton-based 35-year-old from Tunbridge Wells is excited about competing in front of a home crowd for the first time since the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
“It’s amazing to have a major tournament like the Europeans at home,” said Bayley. “Since I started playing in 2006 I’ve only played in an international tournament twice in the UK so it’s going to be really special to have the British public supporting us in a home Europeans. The EIS in Sheffield is the home of British Para table tennis and we’re really comfortable there so it will be an advantage but we’ve got to make sure we capitalise on that and perform to our best. I think as a team we can do really well so it’s exciting.
“London 2012 was the most special memory of my career. Although I lost in the final it was definitely my favourite Paralympics because the support of the crowd was unbelievable. I’ve never witnessed anything like it - the noise and the passion of the support that we had. I felt like a superstar for two weeks - I wasn’t used to people singing my name and it was amazing to be in that environment and be a part of that. It’s been a long time since then so it will be great to have something like that at the Europeans. I know we have great support from the British public, so I’m excited for that as well.”
Bayley’s gold in the men’s class 7 singles was one of 10 medals won by the British Para Table Tennis Team at last year’s World Championships in Spain, which also included gold for Billy Shilton and Paul Karabardak (men’s class 14 doubles) and Fliss Pickard and Grace Williams (women’s class 14 doubles). Jack Hunter-Spivey (men’s class 3-5) and Joshua Stacey (men’s class 8-10) both won gold at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, with Stacey also taking World Championship silver in men’s class 9, while Rio 2016 Paralympic champion Rob Davies will be looking to win his fifth consecutive men’s class 1 European singles title in Sheffield.
The team’s most successful World Championships followed its best performance at a Paralympic Games, with seven medals in Tokyo, and this year’s European Championships will give athletes the chance to secure direct qualification for Paris 2024 and valuable ranking points ahead of the next Paralympics.
“A home European Championships is a massive opportunity for the athletes,” said BPTT Performance Director Gorazd Vecko, “as winning a European singles title will secure a place in the Paralympic Games as regional champion. Para table tennis proved to be very popular with spectators at the Commonwealth Games last year and the athletes who were lucky enough to compete in Birmingham enjoyed huge support from the crowd. We don’t have the chance to compete in front of big crowds very often and it will be amazing if we can have that same support and atmosphere in Sheffield and maximise our home advantage.”
British Para Table Tennis’s bid to host the 2023 ITTF European Para Table Tennis Championships was backed by UK Sport, the UK government’s agency for major sporting events, and Table Tennis England. Outside of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham last year and the London 2012 Paralympic Games the last international Para table tennis event to be held in the UK was the British Open in 2011 and staging the European Championships will provide a valuable opportunity to showcase the sport and its accessibility to a wide audience.
Karen Tonge OBE, Chairman of British Para Table Tennis, said: “Sheffield City are helping us to create sporting history by hosting this Para Table Tennis continental championship event for the first time. The European Para Championships were one of my visions when I was first elected Chairman of BTTAD, now BPTT, in 2015. That vision is now becoming a reality as it is really taking shape with the partnership and support of UK Sport, Table Tennis England and Sheffield City Council. With the winner in each singles class gaining automatic qualification to the Paris Paralympics in 2024 it gives a tremendous opportunity to our athletes and coaches.”
Esther Britten, Head of Major Events for UK Sport, said: “Funded by The National Lottery, we have a dedicated programme of major events that helps GB athletes qualify and prepare for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. As we continue the journey towards Paris 2024, hosting this European Championships in Sheffield provides an exciting, competitive opportunity for athletes, right here on home soil.”
“The awarding of the European Para Table Tennis Championships is wonderful news,” said Table Tennis England Chief Executive Adrian Christy, “and we are delighted to see world-class table tennis return to this country. We look forward to this event inspiring people of all ages and backgrounds to get involved in our great sport - whether that be playing, coaching or volunteering - and further build our fantastic table tennis community.”
Lisa Firth, Sheffield City Council’s Director of Parks, Leisure and Libraries, said: “Sheffield is looking forward to hosting the European Para Table Tennis Championships in the city which is already the home of British Para Table Tennis. We will be welcoming an incredible contingent of athletes from across the continent as they battle it out for the title of European champion and a spot at the Paralympic Games. With British athletes on home turf, we’re expecting a fantastic atmosphere for competitors and spectators at the English Institute of Sport.”
The 2023 ITTF European Para Table Tennis Championships will take place at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield from September 4th-9th.