Premier League gets involved in table tennis
There's a new cup competition involving the Premier League in town, and the trophy will be held aloft by a team of inner city kids who play table tennis.
The Urban Cup is a ping pong tournament aimed at getting underprivileged kids off the streets and involved in the sport. This year's event will feature Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and the rest of the Premier League teams.
''It's amazing really,'' said Nigel Winterburn, a former Arsenal defender who is working along with athletic apparel maker Fred Perry to promote Saturday's event. ''You get kids to come along with their strips on to play table tennis.''
This year's Urban Cup has a football feel because of the link with the Premier League 4 Sport program. Every team in the top division sponsored table tennis teams at six local schools, and the best were chosen to play on Saturday at London's Business Design Centre.
''They may not have been given the opportunity before. They may not have even thought about it,'' Winterburn said of the kids in the program. ''And if that gives them the inspiration to go one and try to become a top table tennis player, or it helps them in their education, or they go on to do something else in their life, maybe the catalyst was the Arsenal Football Club and the Premier League.
''That would be absolutely sensational.''
Winterburn and Darius Knight, a 20-year-old Olympic hopeful who turned to table tennis instead of a life in gangs, were at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium on Wednesday and met with a group of kids wearing Arsenal colors.
Knight was at the table, paddle in hand, showing the kids how it's done at the top level.
''How I did it was a bit of luck. Now these kids have more opportunities,'' said Knight, one of Britain's top players. ''These kids need a bit more push to help them be on the right way. There's a lot more distractions, a lot more crazy things happening.''
But Knight is already looking forward to the day when the British team grows.
''Instead of one Darius, we might have had 20 or 30 Darius', and that's what we need to make table tennis stronger and better and to win more medals,'' Knight said. ''That's why in China they're so good, because there's 50 or 100 of them pushing every day.''
The Fred Perry brand is named after the last British man to win a Grand Slam tennis title - at the U.S. Open in 1936. Perry, however, also won a world title in table tennis in 1929.
With the help of the Premier League, the company's Urban Cup is generating even more interest this year.
''The motivation behind it was to increase the participation in the event,'' Fred Perry marketing head Richard Martin said. ''They (the Premier League) realized this is what they were trying to do in the community. Now we can reach out together.''
The combined initiative is said to have given more than 100,000 school kids in England the chance to learn and play table tennis.
''Take the Premier League passion and refocus it on a different sport,'' Martin said.
Winterburn, who formed a defensive stronghold with Tony Adams, David O'Leary and Lee Dixon in his playing days in the 1990s at nearby Highbury Stadium, said he grew up playing table tennis and added that he prefers individual sports.
''Golf, tennis, anything like that. Somewhere where you have to use your own mental strength and powers to overcome the competition,'' Winterburn said. ''(In football) you're always reliant upon somebody else, whereas in an individual sport, particularly table tennis, you're reliant upon yourself. There's no one else to blame.''