Gavin Rumgay has a plan. It has taken him from North Korea to Nigeria, and from Belgium to Belarus, in the past few months and is overtly cynical.

Scotland’s leading table tennis player is targeting the World Tour events his competitors don’t want to go to in a focused attempt to climb the world rankings. The maths is simple: a player’s ranking is determined by their eight best results in the preceding 12 months. So the less glamorous the competition, the better chance of doing well…

The 34-year-old, who beat both the Murray brothers during his youth tennis career, has been to four Commonwealth Games, is ranked in the top 10 of the world in the spin-off sport of “ping pong”, and is now aiming for the 2020 Olympics.

In the third of a series of pieces for BBC Sport Scotland, 34-year-old Perth-native Rumgay discusses pregnancy pillows, honesty bars, and Minsk holding cells.

The secret of a good night’s sleep

Can I tell you a secret? Don’t tell anyone, but my latest ruse to stave off aches and pains is to use a pregnancy pillow in bed.

Baby Rumgay is due in mid-April

Apparently, they are the ‘in’ thing for relieving all sorts of ailments so my wife got one to help her with back pain. Now, I know she’s the pregnant one but as the man of the house, I had to try it first and make sure it was OK for her… And you know what? It was incredible. No tossing and turning and a terrific deep sleep. Jane might struggle to get her pillow back.

On a serious note, it’s been a timely discovery. I was playing the final qualifying round of a tournament in Belgium at the end of October when I slipped going for a big forehand kill. Bad move. I managed to twist my torso beyond its normal range of motion – just trust me, it’s possible – and push one of my ribs out of place.

I had to retire, obviously, and crawl to the Honesty Bar in my hotel, where I poured my first ever pint. Some consolation, I’d say.

After some painful rehab with a chiropractor in Stockholm, I was mobile enough to play a match at the Swedish World Tour simply to gather some more ranking points, then it was on to Minsk…

£4 for medical insurance? Bargain…

I was still not fully fit when I arrived in Belarus for my final World Tour event of 2018, and not just because of the 2am start to catch a flight.


Getting to Minsk – a city of around two million people – is a complicated business. All British passport holders can enter Belarus for 30 days without a visa so long as they don’t fly via Moscow. So we made our way via Vienna. More curiously, when you arrive at Minsk National Airport, you need to buy mandatory medical insurance at the princely sum of £4. I maybe should have had my rib looked at while I was there…

Still, at least we avoided the same fate as one of my Scottish colleagues, who travelled to Belarus for an event in 2014. He turned up without a visa and tried to kick up a fuss before being huckled into a holding cell, then sent home. That’s one way to stay unbeaten.

What’s next?

With my body not quite ready for the rigours of competition, I was knocked out in the first round but that did mean I had two days to explore Minsk before heading home to prepare for fatherhood.

My wife is Chinese and moved to the UK 12 years ago, while I’m quite clearly Scottish with red hair. It’s going to make for a very interesting baby…

Jane is due in April, but before then I need to get myself fit for the World Championship of Ping Pong, which will be broadcast live from the Alexandra Palace in London in January.

It is our sport’s biggest event in Britain and I’ve reached the quarter-final stage on three occasions. I’ll let you know how I get on.