Thursday, August 24, 2023


Mackay and Whitsunday Life

Top Level Table Tennis In PNG A Surprise Christmas Journey


- Children in traditional dress welcome to PNG Janice Kent, centre, and other umpires Samantha and Nane. Photos: Contributed

- Janice Kent, centre, takes the umpires chair for a group shot with other umpires at the ITTF Oceania tournament in Port Moresby

Umpiring at a high-level tournament at Port Moresby is the last thing Mackay Table Tennis president Janice Kent expected leading up to Christmas.

Janice was invited by Ryan Weingard of ITTF Oceania to attend and umpire at the ITTF Oceania tournament involving teams from New Caledonia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Australia and took the challenge head-on.

“Progression in a sport that you are passionate about can take many pathways,” she said.

“For me, although I have not taken my eye off the ball and want to continue to play, I also see the need for more players to progress into the umpiring role – to know the rules and to know the role – to be impartial and fair when giving a true account of the game.  

“Since moving to Australia from NZ and attending my first regional tournament in Townsville, I was always being beaten and out in the first round.  But to keep the tournament going and wait for my club team players to either win or be ruled out of the competition I needed to fill in the day so umpiring here I come.

“For a couple of years, I attended the regional competitions and took the lead from my club buddy, Donna Abbott, to put my hand up when an umpire was requested.”

Janice said players needed to realise that umpires are human.

“They do make mistakes! They do miss some calls! But without them putting their hand up the tournaments don’t run so well and games don’t get played as quickly.”

She said that with the media and travel advice advising to only travel to PNG if extremely necessary, one would think that attending this small tournament in PNG didn’t tick the boxes.

“But I decided to throw my hat in the ring and if they wanted me to go, I was quite prepared to do so.

“When my flight was delayed and ended up having to be transferred to the following day I was concerned the road blocks were trying to tell me something.  But from the time I arrived in Port Moresby to the time I left I was looked after and treated so well by the locals, the competitors, the other officials and complete strangers and so glad I stepped out of my comfort zone to be part of the tournament.’’

Teams competed from New Caledonia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Australia.   The Australian team provided some top exhibition matches in the final of the men’s and women’s singles of the Oceania Cup with Nicholas Lum defeating Xin Yan (4 – 1) and Minhyung Jee defeating Yangzi Liu (4 – 3). The Pacific Cup was fought out between Geoffrey Loi (PNG) and Jeremy Dey (New Caledonia) in the Men’s Singles and Grace Yee (Fiji) and Julie Wanegui (New Caledonia).  Geoffrey Loi and Grace Yee were the eventual winners.

“Under the eagle eye of Stephen Gillespie as the tournament referee I refreshed a lot of skills that we don’t use at State and National competition.  Checking bats, flipping coins, checking the nets between games and even collecting the balls between games – time keeping, time outs, hand signals and working closely with your assistant umpire were all challenges to be overcome throughout the tournament and so glad that I went.

“Where to now? – more playing and more umpiring but to use what I learned during my PNG experience to improve the sport of table tennis at home – in Australia.”

By Charlie Payne

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