11/05/2017 07:01 BST | Updated 12/05/2017 12:03 BST

Brexit Could Dash 'Amazing' Opportunities For Disabled Table Tennis Players

'The Government cannot afford to allow an often marginalised part of society to be disadvantaged further.'

Disabled players from Brighton Table Tennis Club competing in Malmo, Sweden, in February

Brexit could force disabled table tennis players at the UK’s first Club of Sanctuary to pull out of “amazing” international projects and tournaments, its co-founder has warned. 

Brighton Table Tennis Club’s (BTTC) 20-strong squad faces losing funding from a €50,000 Erasmus Plus grant administered by the EU.

Tim Holton, 32, the co-founder of the club, said the money “subsidised travel and competition for over 300 people to go on six exchanges between countries and share good practice”.

The grant is set to rise to €500,000 next year, to fund an expansion of the scheme that will see disabled table tennis teams from 12 different countries participate. 

But Holton warned that his own squad could lose all its EU funding and be barred from the competition after Brexit officially happens, expected to be in Spring 2019. 

HuffPost UK/ Eve Hartley
Chris O'Flynn is one of the BTTC squad who travels abroad for the disabled tournaments

“It’s an amazing project, taking 20 people from Brighton to Sweden, to Germany, and they will come here. This year, the club in Sweden has organised an even bigger 12-country project, and we’re one of the lead clubs on that,” he said.

“But post-Brexit I’m not sure if anyone in this country’s going to be invited to those projects, so it’s a bit unclear what’s going to happen there. But it’s been amazing and I hope that that can carry on.”

Asked what having EU funds slashed would mean to BTTC’s disabled squads, Holton said: “We would be banished to our little island.”

HuffPost UK/ Eve Hartley
Holton: 'The kids learn so much from doing those trips'

“It’s going to be much harder to take people to Europe if we need visas every time we go. It’s unclear how it’s all going to play out but it’s going to make things much more difficult.

“We’re taking kids to Portugal, we’ve just got back from Sweden, and if that has to stop then that’s a big shame, because the kids learn so much from doing those trips.

“For some of the players we have organised them getting passports as they have never had opportunities to go abroad before. Their involvement in table tennis has enabled it.Tim Holton

Tracey McCillen, Chief Executive of the UK Sports Association for People with Learning Disability, said given the “limited funding” already available for such programmes, BTTC facing cuts to its European grant was “unacceptable”. 

She told HuffPost UK: “It is widely recognised that sport is a tremendously important vehicle for people with learning disability to enable them to excel in many different ways.

“BTTC embraces this, but impressively extends their remit even further, welcoming so many other disadvantaged groups.

“Funding for these important sports programmes is already limited in the UK so BTTC facing cuts in its European funding is unacceptable.

“BTTC provide life-changing opportunities for young people with a disability to experience international competition, developing not only a sporting prowess, but daily living skills that others often take for granted.

An intervention is needed to preserve what exists and enable their important work to continue.Tracey McCillen

”The UK Government and sports sector cannot afford to allow an often marginalised part of society to be disadvantaged further.”

Peter Kyle, who is standing to be re-elected as Labour’s MP in Hove, a neighbouring constituency in Brighton, highlighted the work done by the Sanctuary scheme - a title previously only given to cities and schools who “take pride in the welcome they offer to people in need of safety”.

But Kyle added the potential problem facing the disabled table tennis squad in Brighton was “nothing short of a scandal”. 

Rex Features
Kyle: 'This wonderful organisation is having to make major cuts'

He told HuffPost UK: “I’ve warned from day one that Brexit in its current form is a bad thing.

“Not only have I heard from organisations such as Sanctuary, who are ringing alarm bells loud and clear, but businesses and city organisations have all said they are worried.

“That’s why I set my three tests on business, tourism and education before I will support the governments rushed and badly thought-out Brexit.

“Sanctuary is exactly the type of organisation that should be growing and thriving at the moment, so to learn that because of the way the Government is ploughing ahead to appease the hard and extreme brexiteers in their party, this wonderful organisation is having to make major cuts in two areas which desperately need MORE resources is nothing short of a scandal.”

NOW READ: Meet The UK’s First Table Tennis Club Of Sanctuary That’s Giving A Masterclass In Integration

HuffPost UK is looking at voters’ priorities outside the hubbub of the election campaign trail and what they want beyond March 29, 2019, not just June 8, 2017Beyond Brexit leaves the bubble of Westminster and London talk to Britons left out of the conversation on the subjects they really care about, like housing, integration, social care, school funding and air quality.