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Sport drives down the line to social change

David Powell (Australian Table tennis Olympian) Steve Lowe and Gobi Jegarajasinham
Australian table tennis player and Olympian, David Powell (left), meets Gobi (centre) and Stephen Lowe.

24 Jan 2018

Playing table tennis 40 years ago on a table built by his Dad in the shearing shed, Stephen Lowe would never have imagined that his passion for playing would one day lead to a fundraising effort to help fight human trafficking and exploitation of young people.

Today, Stephen says sport has played not only an important part of his life, but he’s also seen how it provides a platform for social change: to build communities, break down barriers, and impact positively on a wide range of issues.

“As a teenager I was very shy and struggled to fit in well with my peers,” Stephen said.

“Friday night table tennis and Saturday afternoon tennis matches were the parts of the week I most looked forward to. “Sport gave me hope and got me through the vulnerable years when I was trying to find my identity.

“Growing up on the farm at Culcairn, New South Wales, my brother and I played cricket, tennis, or table tennis every spare minute we had. We joined the local table tennis competition, and I’ve been playing competitively every week ever since.”

In 2013, Stephen heard about the “Pingpongathon” project – where people play table tennis in organised events across the country to raise awareness about human trafficking. He offered to help out, and became project treasurer.

In October 2016, Stephen organised one of the largest of the 60 Pingpongathon events across Australia, involving more than 2,500 people, and raising $350,000 for the cause.

On a personal level, playing table tennis has also been a way for Stephen to connect with his step-son, Gobi, who has also been actively involved in the project, and playing since he was 10 years old.

“We’ve travelled to Queensland to tour table tennis clubs on the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast to encourage people to get involved in Pingpongathon – and engage in a sport they might not otherwise consider,” Stephen said.

“We’ve been involved in Pingpongathon for three years now and it’s been our greatest sporting moment as a family. The most fun we’ve had is putting together a YouTube clip to encourage others to join ‘team pong’.

Sport has always been an integral part of Stephen’s life. He has recently joined Riversdale Golf club and plays golf each Thursday to add to his weekly tennis and table tennis activities.

“When I was a kid, we travelled to other small towns in the Riverina to play tennis or table tennis tournaments.

“On a cruise to the South Pacific in 2015, we played table tennis each day on the boat and even convinced the staff to move the table tennis table to the ball room to play the final of the competition!”

Stephen’s top three tips for families playing sport:

  1. Watch your kids play sport. It’s important to them that you see them succeeding.
  2. Don’t take it too seriously, it’s not all about winning. There will always be someone better than you. It’s about engaging in a healthy activity and learning new skills. Winning will come with learning the basics of the sport and improving skills.
  3. You have the same goals playing sport as your opponent, so treat them with respect. Your opponent is also your friend. Without them, you would have to play by yourself!

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Did you know?

Gold Coast 2018 is the 5th Commonwealth Games to be hosted by Australia.

Quick numbers

11.6 million Australian adults participate in sport or physical activity three or more times per week.
3.2 million Australian children participate in organised sport or physical activity outside of school.
$10 billion is spent annually by Australians on fees for participation in sport or physical activity.
17 million Australian adults participate in a sport or physical activity every year.
650 thousand Australians either coach, teach or instruct sport.