By Sherdon Pierre, former Trinidad and Tobago athlete

The COVID-19 pandemic has postponed almost everything worldwide over the last several months and the table tennis enthusiasts throughout the Caribbean are eagerly awaiting the moment to hold a racket again. Some countries are on the brink of returning to their regular schedules and have already released guidelines for resumption upon receiving final approval from their government.

Barbados’ dilemma

However, there are others who remain uncertain of recommencement, and that has been mentally draining for the players despite their collective understanding of the severity of this pandemic.

A majority of the local players are hosted at the Barbados Table Tennis Centre in Bridgetown. A venue that operates solely for the sport, has been empty as the proverbial grave in the words of the President of the Barbados Table Tennis Association, Dale Rudder:

“The Executive Committee has worked extremely hard to put things in place to meet the stringent Covid-19 Protocols. The building has been outfitted with the requisite sanitization stations and signage with an appointment system setup and number of boards reduced to maintain proper social distancing. We are all extremely eager to resume playing but must also be cognizant of our elderly, more at-risk demographic as we seek to maintain the safest environment for all. COVID-19 has forced us all to take an introspective look at how we operate in our day to day lives. Having put all things in place to ensure a safe return to what can only be described as this “new normal”, we are only now awaiting building inspection from the COVID-19 task force and official permission from the National Sports Council (NSC).” Dale Rudder, President of the Barbados Table Tennis Association

Small steps for St. Lucia

St. Lucia is one of the most fortunate countries of the Caribbean as they were able to resume playing whilst adhering to the strict health protocols. Chris Wells who performs several integral roles for the sport on the island such as Tournament Organizer, Public Relations Officer and coach was elated upon getting authorization from the Government.

Players training in St. Lucia.

A true Caribbean Ambassador for the sport, Wells spoke about the need to adapt becoming an essential quality for all athletes – new and old – as well as the lessons learnt during the quiet time because of COVID-19:

“Table-tennis allows us to adapt to change knowing that playing the game forces us to adapt and make adjustment on a regular basis. The challenge will be in achieving this as a collective group. ‘How do we get our developing athletes to reclaim their standard of play prior to the lockdown mentally, physically, technically and tactically?‘ Everything can change in a blink of an eye and that the world is continually changing. Also, we are more connected to the rest of the world than we think; It reminded me to make more time for family and take occasional rest. It also forced me to become creative in many ways from connecting with athletes and sending out physical tasks and challenges on a daily basis just to keep them active as well as positive messages.” Chris Wells, Public Relations Officer

Guyana keeping the hope

Despite the obvious limitations of the pandemic, the Guyana Table Tennis Association has been commended by their neighboring countries and onlookers for their proactive approach towards utilizing this period to improve the functioning of their Association.

The fraternity held several sessions online focusing on players technical and tactical training methods, umpiring course, improving media presence and futuristic plans for table-tennis in the country. They have also developed a ‘Selection Criteria Provision’, ‘Policy Guidelines’ and Policy directives on the coach’s disciplinary matters as well as tournament coordination.

Shemar Britton of Guyana.

President of the Association, Godfrey Munroe believes one of the most underlying issues faced in the sport is providing a more holistic professional stance:

“Our response as a National Federation in the initial phase was one of precaution. As an affiliate member of the International Table Tennis Federation, we were guided by ITTF`s guidelines as they provided significant guidance, training and other material and platforms to assist its affiliates in mitigating against the impacts of COVID19 Pandemic. There is need to critically accelerate our programs that while the service to national federations is one of volunteerism we have to have people seriously committed to the task of progressing the sport. It cannot be business as usual since we have to institute the systems and structures that are necessary to insulate us against similar type intrusion and advance the sport so that the potential of our athletes is fully realized.” Godfrey Munroe, President of the Guyana Table Tennis Association

Adjustments for a new Caribbean future

Regrettably, the Trinidad & Tobago Table Tennis Association (TTTTA) is uncertain about the re-opening of the National Racquet Centre because it is being used as a Quarantine Facility for returning T&T residents.

“Adjustments are needed to be made and new strategies to adapt to the new normal. Players are eager to play some have started back to train already but we are unsure as to when we will be back in the Centre.” David Joseph, TTTTA President

The countries of the Caribbean will continue to rally together by obeying the health protocols in an effort to curb the COVID-19 pandemic and making small but important steps towards a future where we can all play our favorite sport again with a smile on our faces.

Multiple national girls champion Chloe Fraser of Trinidad and Tobago.

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