Dubai: Table tennis is also a sport beloved by many Filipinos, both at a competitive level and as a leisure activity.

It’s easy and amazingly fun to play, has many health benefits and is a relatively low-risk activity when it comes to injuries compared with many other sports. The sport originated in Victorian England as a parlour game in the 1800s, but is now played by millions all over the world.

In the UAE, several Filipino table tennis groups have been formed by passionate enthusiasts who gather regularly in different venues to enjoy the sport — and encourage others to try it.

And while it is not as ingrained in the Filipino sporting culture as basketball or boxing, table tennis is definitely one of the more popular ones among Pinoys because, well, it’s really easy to play and truly enjoyable.

'Table tennis helped me complete my bachelor's degree'

Among the groups that regular meet for rounds of ping-pong, the more popular term of the sport among Filipinos, are the Millennium Table Tennis Club (MPTC), which meets in a sports hall in Abu Hail, and the Al Shabab Tennis Club, which meets at the Al Shabab Club in Mamzar.
Rex Bolivar, one of the members of the Al Shabab group, says he joined the Filipino table tennis community to rekindle his love for the sport.

“I was playing the sport since I was in high school,” says Bolivar, a former National University (NU) Bulldogs varsity player. “Table tennis helped me complete my bachelor’s degree.”
Gem Palomar, who has been playing table tennis since Grade 4, says the sport has also been a way to connect with friends old and new.
“I tried to find ways to continue my passion,” says the Palomar, an HR/Admin coordinator. “There are lots of organisations here in UAE organising tournaments, so from there I started my connections and networks with other Filipinos and other players.”
Many of the new members of the group had been recruited by existing members, while some members had actually already researched about table tennis groups that they could join even before they arrived in the UAE.
Siegfred Tupas and Dondon Banares are already friends back in the Philippines.
“I was a varsity at the University of Negros Occidental-Recoletos.When I was still in the Philippines, I was already communicating with my table tennis friends here in Dubai,” says Siegfred Tupas, who works as a bartender and waiter.
Tupas said it was his friend Dondon Banares who introduced him to MPTC, where he is now one of the group’s active members.
Banares, who works as an IT support staff, is one of the organisers of the club, which he says is now one among many others in different emirates.

A growing group

“I lived in Abu Dhabi before. When I came to Dubai I tried to search for clubs where we can develop our Filipino table tennis community. That was three or four years ago,” says Banares.“When we started, we were around 20 members. Now it’s almost 60 members.”

Banares says there are now Filipino table tennis groups in Ras Al Khaimah, Al Ain and Abu Dhabi. In Dubai, he knows of around four other Filipino table tennis clubs. 

The Millennium Table Tennis Club
“We always organise tournaments. From my side, it’s almost eight years that I have been conducting tournaments,” says Banares.
Bolivar, who’s been playing table tennis in Dubai for seven years now, says the growth of the community is very encouraging.

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“It has really grown from the time that we started seven years back,” says Bolivar, noting that many of the clubs are also open to other nationalities. “It is multicultural, multinational. We are proud to say that in all those clubs, most of the leaders are Filipinos.”
Some of the members of the clubs in Dubai even have members who come all the way from other emirates. Jenny Lyn Almazan, an accountant from Abu Dhabi, says she always finds time to come to Dubai to participate in tournaments.
“We know each other, so if there are tournaments here in Dubai, we always participate and support the sport,” says Almazan.

Stress buster

Apart from being passionate about the sport, players say the table tennis community has been a way of dealing with stress and the loneliness of being away from their families in the Philippines. 
“It’s like a stress reliever for Filipinos here,” says Almazan. “I play thrice a week. I usually play from 7pm until 10pm.”
For Tupas, the table tennis community is his second family. “You can relieve your stress and at the same time it’s like having a second family.”
Banares adds: “It helps with homesickness. We try to enjoy the sport and being with the group.” 
Above all, Palomar says being with friends and creating new ones is one of the great incentives of playing table tennis. “It’s not just the sport, it’s also all about friendships,” says Palomar. “When we maintain the friendships, they grow.”

The Millennium Table Tennis Club in the UAE.
Apart from the physical and health benefits of playing table tennis, table tennis may also be good for the brain.
“According to research, it helps eliminate Parkinson’s disease and  Alzheimer’s disease,” shares Bolivar. 
He adds: “Table tennis also is a game for any age. There’s no age limit because it is not a rigid sport like basketball or football. It is a family game actually.”

Learn the sport

The different Filipino table tennis organisations also offer training for those who want to learn the sport. “We do training for beginners. With regards on the coaching, we are conducting coaching every night, 7-10, for players 6-7 years old,” says Banares.“If you want to be a good player, there’s no requirement, no age limit. We have coaches to help the players to improve.”
Bolivar says sometimes it only takes one game for players to get hooked on the game. “Once they feel the ball, the eagerness will be there. They will love to learn more and more,” says Bolivar. “And usually become enthusiastic once they learn. It’s a good discipline as well.”
Aside from the UAE tournaments, the Filipino organisations and clubs also conduct tournaments that involve players from other GCC countries.
“We started 2016 in Abu Dhabi. It was the first tournament for all Filipinos in the GCC area. We invited players from Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The last time was held a GCC tournament was in Bahrain,” says Banares, adding that the next GCC-wide event will be in December, although the venue and host has yet to be cofirmed.

With inputs from Jobannie Tabada, Features Editor – Property Weeekly