She’s just 14, but table tennis sensation Anna Hursey is making friends in high places.
Yet it isn’t her sporting abilities attracting attention, rather her environmental advocacy, a topic she cares passionately about.
That led to the US Embassy getting in touch with Hursey’s mom and dad earlier this year, inviting the youngster to work with US President Joe Biden in his mission to tackle the climate crisis.
“I was just at home, my parents just got a phone call and I was kind of like, what is this about? And they told me, but I was really excited,” Hursey told CNN Sport.
Just hours after he was sworn into office on January 20, Biden signed an executive order beginning the 30-day process for the US to rejoin the Paris Agreement, which is an international accord to limit global warming.
The US had officially exited the agreement late last year, becoming the first and only country to formally pull out of the deal since it was adopted in 2015.
And in a bid to engage the younger generation, the US Embassy wanted to speak with Hursey about ways she can help in the fight.
She is set to talk with Deputy Chief of Mission Yael Lempert to discuss taking part in “Earth Day” on April 22 and the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, later this year.
“I feel so proud because President Biden can continue the great progress made by President Obama on the Paris agreement,” said Hursey.
“I think President Biden is great, he clearly cares for people, not only for the US but for the world too. [His] new climate change agenda is very bold. To achieve zero emissions in America by 2050 is incredible.”
A passion ignited by disasters
Hursey was aged 11 when she became the youngest person to compete at the Commonwealth Games in 2018 and she regularly plays against the best adults in the United Kingdom.
On top of ambitions to win Olympic medals, Hursey’s hinterland encompasses much more than just sport.
“I think that loads of things are happening in the world, like earthquakes and hurricanes, and not everyone is taking notice of this. I think everyone should definitely take more notice and act upon it,” she added.
“I think sportspeople have influence and many people play and watch sport and climate change is about caring for your family and friends. Everyone is affected by climate change and sport can definitely influence change.
“I would really just like to use my voice to tell people about climate change and hopefully they will take notice and act upon it.”
Greta Thunberg comparison
Hursey’s awareness about environmental issues was stimulated by the number of climate disasters around the world and she was also concerned about the impact air pollution would have on her asthma.
The teenager says she’s already carbon neutral, offsetting her footprint by investing in several environmental projects. She also uses minimal plastic, recycles, and urges her family to cycle instead of taking the car whenever possible.
In 2020, she was named as a Young Champion of the UN’s Sports for Climate Action Framework and, perhaps understandably, comparisons have been drawn between Hursey and Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, who is one of the world’s leading voices in the climate crisis fight.
However, Hursey wants to focus on what she can do.
“I think that if you know enough and you’re responsible, then anyone at any age can take a look into climate change and take actions,” she said, praising Thunberg for her work.
“I think it’s amazing. She’s really young and I’m sure loads of people look up to her. I think she’s done a really good job.”
Introduced to table tennis by her father, who also played the game, Hursey’s sporting talent was evident from a very early age.
When she was just six, she spent time in her mother’s native country of China where she enjoyed an intensive training schedule to hone her skills, training for up to eight hours a day and even heading off on five mile runs.
By the time she was eight, she was regularly beating her dad.
Now back in Wales, Hursey trains up to five hours a day, six days a week, and is dreaming of more success on the international stage.
Unsure whether she’ll be able to compete in Tokyo 2020, she has her eyes firmly set on the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, UK, and the 2024 Olympics Games in Paris, France.
“It means so much. I really want to win a medal in the Olympics,” she said. “That would mean the world.”