Table tennis star Craig Allen targeting upper echelons of sport
Supported by SportsAid, Allen has his sights set on the very top of his sport
By Oli Dickson Jefford, Sportsbeat
Craig Allen has gone from a holiday table tennis player to targeting the very pinnacle of his sport.
Bromsgrove star Allen first played the sport in Tenerife with his mum, who helped to continue developing his passion for the game when they returned home.
Table tennis became another sport that he loved playing, though he knew that eventually he would have to make a choice about which he wanted to pursue.
And for Allen, who plays in Class 9 para-events for those with mild impairments in their legs or playing arm, there was only going to be one choice.
“When I first started, I was already playing tennis, badminton, cricket, football, I always had those skills. It’s partly me having a natural talent for it and also just enjoying it while on holiday,” said Allen, who is supported by a partnership between SportsAid and Entain and was speaking ahead of SportsAid Week 2023.
“I got to GCSE age, and it was kind of an ultimatum of ‘you’ve got to narrow it down and pick one now.’
"When Craig was 10 months old, I was told that he would probably never ever walk or talk." @CraigTTAllen shares the inspirational story behind his para table tennis journey with his mum Margaret and coach Ian Scott 🏓
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— SportsAid (@TeamSportsAid) March 6, 2023
“I think I chose table tennis because I felt I had a bit more natural ability in it and also, and at that age when you’re starting to get into the senior levels of those sports, quite a lot of them become very physical.
“I hadn’t quite filled out my body yet, I was still quite thin. Table tennis is a sport where it doesn’t matter what your build or your body type is. It is much more of a skill-based game.
“My overall aim is probably the Commonwealth Games in Australia in 2026. To get there you’ve got to have smaller events along the way.
“At the moment, me being 38th in the world, the next kind of aim is for me to be top 30 in the world, and then makes qualifying for the Commonwealths that bit easier in terms of rankings.”
SportsAid Week 2023 is here, with the annual initiative, which was launched in 2016, taking place from Monday 6 March to Sunday 12 March.
This year’s theme focuses on ‘Accessibility and Inclusion’ as the charity shines a spotlight on the country’s most talented young athletes and celebrates the incredible work being undertaken by its partners to support the future of British sport.
And while recognising he may have been fortunate to some extent, Allen himself has never felt excluded from table tennis due to his disability.
England netball legend Ama Agbeze MBE, a Commonwealth Games gold and bronze medallist, shares with us what accessibility and inclusion means to her as she reflects on her sporting journey 🏐
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— SportsAid (@TeamSportsAid) March 10, 2023
“Even though I always knew that in the back of mind I had a disability, it was so subtle that to most people, they’re not immediately going to go ‘yes he’s disabled.’ They played me as an able-bodied person, so then I felt naturally more included,” added Allen, who is funded by SportsAid and commercial partner Entain.
“I didn’t have to go around and tell people I’ve got a disability, because people naturally didn’t assume those things. I still get that now. I’ll play people now for the first time and we’ll get talking after a match, and I’ll passively mention I play disability table tennis, and they’ll look at me like ‘you have a disability?’
“It definitely gives you a confidence boost in being able to beat the able-bodied players at their own game and not being able to adapt, but also the inclusion part of it - it made you feel a part of it.
“With disabilities, you have various forms of disabilities. I suppose mine allows me to be included a bit more easily than other disabilities would.”
SportsAid Week 2023 takes place from Monday 6 March to Sunday 12 March! Join us for a dedicated week of fun and awareness-raising based around theme of accessibility and inclusion. Please visit www.sportsaid.org.uk