University of Manchester Table Tennis Club (UMTTC) held a free session for women in honour of International Women’s Day on March 8th. The club has been aiming to increase female participation in the sport.
President of the club, Shreya Mehta, explained that historically there had been a lack of female representation in table tennis.
“There were definitely more guys than girls that played,” said the President about the sport as a whole. “I wouldn’t say that it’s more focused on the guys now. It’s definitely become equal… previously, in the past few years, I would say that the number of girls [playing] has increased, but there’s definitely been a gap.”
Vice President Toby Bartram, who ran the club last year, described how it was “a bit of a boy’s club” when he first became a member three years ago.
“When I first started … there were maybe only seven or eight members, and they were all straight white males. In my second year, I took it over. I thought … we’ve got to change things”.
In recent years the Club has made changes to increase diversity and become more inclusive. Both Shreya and Toby explained how this year they have aimed to increase diversity in the club through the use of social media, increasing the number of socials for club members and relaxed Sunday sessions like the International Women’s Day event.
The UMTTC, which has been running since the 1960s, now has approximately 10 female players and 30-40 male players. However, both Toby and Shreya agree that there has been a vast improvement from last year, as the number of female players has doubled.
Shreya explained why she believes female participation is still low in the club and the sport as a whole.
“Right now there’s no discrimination in the club, there’s just a lack of female players playing table tennis.
“Some people have just never really thought of table tennis … as being a club at university, compared to netball and hockey [which] a lot of girls play.”
Shreya and Toby explained that they hoped the session would encourage female students to try it out. When asked who they thought would be attending the International Women’s Day table tennis session, Toby explained that he hoped new players would join.
“[We] hope … that they try it out and enjoy it. Because I think that’s a lot of the problem with university sport in general: people are scared to try stuff out.”
The Tokyo Olympics will also attempt to improve gender equality in table tennis this summer through the creation of a mixed doubles event. However, Shreya and Toby were unsurprised by this change.
“That’s something that runs in the UK already,” said Toby. “County table tennis is all mixed.”
Shreya added that BUCS also already has a mixed doubles event. However, both mentioned that a mixed table tennis team would be a good addition to the university competition, which UMTTC competes in each year.
“Adding this mixed-gender [event], I feel like it just adds a different, fun and inclusive aspect to it,” said Shreya.