GAVIN Rumgay, the world’s 266th-best table tennis player, would not like you to feel sorry for him. It’s not easy to compete with the Chinese when making a living is as challenging as winning tournaments but, contrary to what we expect, Scotland’s No 1 does not feel down on his luck and has no complaints.
He is an enterprising type, you see. Ever since an offer of equipment sponsorship from Donic at 15 lured him away from tennis and badminton and down the table-tennis route, the Perth man has been making ends meet by creating a portfolio of revenue sources.
Had he tried to make it in tennis, like old sparring partner Andy Murray, it might have ended in shattered dreams. But he has forged a path as a professional athlete, and can look forward to many more years of doing so.
“The other Scottish guys, it’s difficult for them funding-wise, but I’ve got a club abroad, in Switzerland, that pays well. If you are in the top 300 you can get a decent contract abroad,” he explains. “I also have a racket-sports coaching business which is quite well-paid as well. It focuses on badminton, tennis and table tennis coaching, so I just visit people’s houses if they’ve got a table tennis table or a badminton court. The money in London is frightening.
“Up to the age of about 16, I was at international level at tennis and badminton – and table tennis. I just had to decide which one was realistically going to be better and, at that stage with table tennis, the sponsors came on board. At that stage it was Donic, and now it’s Stiga, which is a Swedish company, that have come forward for me and they give you a contract for two, three or four years so it’s quite reliable.
“Sponsorship is vital because a racket like the one I am holding, that costs £300. I need a new racket every two or three weeks. People don’t realise that this thing is super-fast – it’s like a trampoline.”
From a pure sporting point of view, the Glasgow Commonwealth Games are all about altering public misconceptions. If people want to know more about a sport that isn’t usually on their radar, this is their chance and it might not come again in their lifetime. “Take it or leave it” is the appropriate mantra because it would be foolish to try to ram information down throats.
Rumgay, 29, corrects a few misconceptions. As a player who has known nothing but pre-eminence in his own country since 2006, we meet the morning after he has lost to a fellow Scot, Craig Howieson, at the West of Scotland Grand Prix at Scotstoun, and yet he is neither ashamed nor disconsolate. Scottish table tennis needs more than one flag-bearer, this year more than ever.
“It’s been a while since I lost in Scotland,” he reflects. “Since Euan Walker retired seven or eight years ago, I’ve just been sort of winning every tournament. Obviously I’ve lost matches in Scotland but to other players from Wales or from Hungary, whatever.
“It was the number two, Craig Howieson from Edinburgh, who beat me, three sets to two. He was 2-0 up, I came back and then he won the last set. He’s 23. It’s probably down to the national coach, who trains the guys here. He is working them up and they are physically stronger than they used to be as well. I think that’s helping and, to add to that, it’s the mental strength. That’s basically what Craig’s got at the moment and that’s why he is pushing up a little bit.
“It’s a good sign for the Commonwealths coming up, for sure. We need three of us to be playing well, we need to be playing well in doubles as well. There are three singles places but there are also two doubles matches thrown in, it’s a strange format that they have introduced. It’s best of five points.”
The Scots won bronze at the Commonwealth Table Tennis Championships in India last year, so they are right to be optimistic. Rumgay himself feels that an upset or two in the singles might not be out of reach. Even the dominant Singaporeans do not faze him. “All the guys in the Singapore team have got Singapore passports but they’re actually Chinese. They are ranked ten to 20 in the world, and two or three of those guys are favourites and then it’s England and India after that. The Indians are all around 50, 60 in the world. My highest ranking has been 220, but I’ve beaten guys up to 20 so there is a chance.
“The guy who is definitely going to be the favourite in Glasgow [20th-ranked Gao Ning], last time I was at two sets all with him. There is a rankings difference because these guys play every two or three weeks and there’s a massive amount of bonus points. But we do quite well, considering.”