Brighton Table Tennis Club has won the beautiful accolade of being the first table tennis club in the country to be nominated a ‘Club of Sanctuary’. That is no small achievement. In fact, in these dark days of growing xenophobia and insularity, this accolade shines like a golden beacon.
If like me, you believe that we only pass this way once, it seems incumbent on each one of us to make a stand at least once or twice in one’s life – to take a stand against the general flow of things, to stand up and be counted when all around you are cowering in the shadows.
This is precisely what Brighton Table Tennis Club have done. They’ve taken a stand and a to hell with the bigots and the small minded. They have proudly declared that their club is a welcoming sanctuary for refugees, asylum seekers and all those that have been cast aside as ‘the other’.
And the funny thing is, once you have declared for your fellow man, all sorts of vistas start to open. Because if you dare to take the blindfold off, all the usual petty prejudices we humans love to hold dear, start to evaporate. Physically disabled people soon become just people who happen to have this or that disability. It’s the same with those with learning difficulties. With an open and welcoming mind, mentally disabled people soon turn out to be just people who happen to have this or that learning difficulty. The person and their unique personality starts to come to the fore and their particularly disability, no matter how pronounced, takes on an entirely different perspective. Disability need not be the defining feature but just another hurdle amongst many. It should be no surprise then that Brighton Table Tennis Club have become the first club to have trained up one of their members as a fully qualified Level 1 table tennis coach, a coach who just happens to have been born with the Downs Syndrome.
It is not altogether surprising that Brighton should be the home of such a brave and outlooking sports club. If I’m not mistaken, Brighton City is the first electorate in Britain to elect a Green MP. A staggering achievement! It tells you a lot about the growing confidence of the Brighton voters. Not cowered by this or that manufactured scare tactic that the Tory/UKIP brigade routinely come out with. No, it seems that the electorate, a good proportion of whom might like to describe themselves as part of the LGBT community, feel confident enough to vote for a political party that has a bold vision for a fairer, more rational world. Perhaps Brighton’s outward looking table tennis community reflects the progressive mentality of the wider community.
It should be no surprise either that Brighton Table Tennis Club makes no distinction between those seeking refuge from war-torn lands and those seeking refuge from the ravages of Tory Britain. Word has spread. Not only do foreign born refugees find a welcoming home at the Brighton ping pong club, so to do the nearby Travellers and Roma. And you have probably guessed it already, in this climate of open house, everybody seems to be getting on with everybody else. And why shouldn’t they. And it should be no surprise either that many of those that have been welcomed into the warm embrace of the club have gone on to become very proficient table tennis players. And why wouldn’t they?
There is no doubt about it; Brighton Table Tennis Club have created a template for every sports club in the country to follow. What Brighton have achieved isn’t rocket science but it did take enormous courage in the early days – the courage to make a stand – to stand up against the flow and declare unambiguously for your fellow man. Brighton Table Tennis Club – we salute you and we pledge to be inspired by your example.
This article was originally published in 2017 on the Sporting Polemics blog.