Talent guru rescues deaf athlete's Olympic dream
PUBLISHED: 18:38 26 August 2009 | UPDATED: 10:25 12 August 2010
A TEENAGE table tennis champ whose special Olympics hopes were dashed when the government axed his funding is to fulfil his dream with the help of TV s Mr Nasty. X Factor s Simon Cowell has stepped in to help fund Team GB s James Meyers, from Orpington,
A TEENAGE table tennis champ whose special Olympics hopes were dashed when the government axed his funding is to fulfil his dream with the help of TV's Mr Nasty.
X Factor's Simon Cowell has stepped in to help fund Team GB's James Meyers, from Orpington, to travel to Taipei, Taiwan, to compete in the Deaflympics this Sunday.
Music mogul Cowell heard of the 17-year-old's plight through his mother who is friends with one of the governors at James' school, Ovingdean Hall in Brighton.
All 175 competitors selected for the GB team were told just weeks before the event that the UK Sport Board were diverting funds to London's 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and would not fund deaf athletes.
Each one of them had to raise a minimum of £2,800 for travel and accommodation in order to compete in the 21st summer Deaflympics, founded in Britain in 1924 as the first games ever for disabled athletes.
Mr Meyers, who only took up table tennis 24 months ago, said: "They told us that they don't expect us to win any medals and that we couldn't go. I was very depressed but kept playing the game and hoped that we could come up with the money.
"Then I heard that Simon Cowell had helped fund me and I was so surprised. I watch X Factor now and can't believe it's him that supported me. I am writing to him to say thank you and I would like to meet him to shake his hand."
Proud mum Heather, 48, said that James has been tipped to go far by his coach bronze medallist Shu Huang, and plans are afoot to send him to the Table Tennis Academy in Hong Kong for further training.
She said: "Simon Cowell has made James' dream come true, he is both nervous and excited about competing in Hong Kong."
James, who became profoundly deaf after contracting Cryptococcus Meningitis when he was just nine months old, won his first tournament at the Horsham Junior One Star against a Sussex County Player last month.
He was selected for the GB Team before Christmas but was told months later that he had to fund himself.
Mrs Meyers added: "It was extremely difficult in the time he had left to raise the money. It is the height of discrimination as for them to raise this money realistically was too much and their goals were taken away.
"This is effectively pushing them out in this big horrible world when they are proud to represent the country.
"It sends out a terrible message considering we are hosting the next Olympic Games."
UK Deaf Sport (UKDS) has been campaigning for funding since UK Sport's decision to withdraw funding and secured more than £150,000 from various donors.
A spokesperson for the UK Sport Board said they took UK Deaf Sport's request for funding 'very seriously' but were unable to offer an award, adding: "We are currently operating with a shortfall of £50 million to support our Olympic and Paralympic ambitions; and as such, we are not currently able to fund all of those sports at an optimal level for the period up to 2012.
"As a result, this has led to us having to make some very tough decisions and we are phasing out funding of non-Olympic and Paralympic sports beyond existing commitments.
"Having said that, deaf athletes who meet the performance standard for UK Sport's World Class Performance Programme, and are nominated by their National Governing Body for funding to enable them to compete at the Olympic or Paralympic Games would, of course, be funded."
At the time of going to press, a spokesman for Simon Cowell was unavailable for comment.