By: Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor

School visits and training sessions were the focus of the five day course. Both the island of Tinian and the capital, Saipan, were visited.

“The Northern Mariana Islands is a self-governing entity in association with the United States, comprising of 16 islands of which six are inhabited; they are part of Micronesia in Oceania and are located approximately eight hours north of Sydney, Australia by flight”, explained Scot Houston. “The islands of Saipan, Tinian and Rota are the most prominent.” It is a beautiful part of the world and one which relies on attracting visitors as a major part of its economy. “There is a population of 80,000 people and tourism, especially from Japan, is the major industry in the Northern Mariana Islands”, continued Scott Houston.

“These picturesque islands have an interesting history.” History Certainly there has been a strong European influence. “The first European settlement was by the Spanish in the mid 1500s and they controlled the islands until 1898; at this point they were sold to Germany, which was ceded to the United States”, added Scott Houston. “Japan then seized the islands in 1914 and they were under Japanese control until after World War Two concluded; since this time they have been under United States control.”

It is a very picturesque part of the world and it was in that situation that the program started. “The first day of the course was spent on Tinian Island, this little known island is a hidden gem in the Pacific, with spectacular views being the norm; there is also a strong table tennis following here, thanks mainly in part to the existence of the hotel and casino that provides the majority of employment in Tinian”, explained Scott Houston. “The hotel and casino manager happens to be a table tennis enthusiast and the lion’s share of employees are all foreign workers from China, Japan and the Philippines.”

Furthermore, there is another connection with China. “There is a coach from China who is present and the employees practise daily after work”, said Scott Houston. “This once again proves that table tennis will find a way to even the smallest and most remote places throughout the world!”

The visit to Tinian over, the next stop was Saipan. “In Saipan, training sessions were conducted and there was a focus on bringing new players to the sport, there was newspaper advertising in the lead up to the course and this proved effective with a good spread of new junior and adult players taking part”, said Scott Houston. “New skills were presented and a lot of healthy competition was on offer during the numerous matches that were played amongst the players.”

 Successful competitions and there were successful school visits. “The school visits also proved to be fruitful”, said Scott Houston. “A total of 65 new students were exposed to table tennis, and even though it was their first exposure to the sport they could demonstrate sound hand-eye coordination and good skills overall.”

However, there are possible difficulties. “The Northern Mariana Islands face one potential problem at the moment; from 28th November 2009 they will have to uniformly adhere to U.S. immigration policies, presently a large percentage of their workforce comes from Asia and given the popularity of table tennis in Asia it makes sense that also a large proportion of these foreign workers also make up the table tennis community in the Northern Mariana Islands”, explained Scott Houston. “Obviously, with the changing immigration laws the potential for the foreign workers to have their working visas renewed will decrease meaning that there may be a drop in the number of people playing table tennis here.”

But there is a positive. “The good news though is that there is a five year transitional period so this will enable suitable planning to go take place; given the potential shown by the local school students during this section of the visit, one feels there is still room for table tennis to grow in the Northern Mariana Islands”, enthused Scott Houston. “The Marianas Amateur Table Tennis Association will be lead through this transitional period by their President, Mr. Steven Lim, who is currently in his eleventh year in charge; he definitely has the betterment of table tennis at heart and he understands the local situation very well.”

A resolution may therefore be at hand. “No doubt a solution will be found and success will be brought to the Northern Mariana Islands in the future”, said Scott Houston. “In the past they have also tasted success, with their Men’s National Team claiming the gold medal on home soil at the 2006 Micronesian Games, which was no doubt an extremely proud moment in the history of table tennis in the Northern Mariana Islands. “ Success in the past and likewise the visit of Scott Houston was a success.

“Many thanks must be extended to Mr. Steven Lim and the Marianas Amateur Table Tennis Association for playing host during this most hospitable visit”, concluded Scott Houston. “No doubt the Oceania Table Tennis Federation will remain in close communication with them to ensure that table tennis both remains and prospers throughout the Northern Mariana Islands.” Undoubtedly that will be the situation and such a situation will enable table tennis to continue to flourish; a successful past and a successful future.

(Article reprinted from ITTF website) 


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