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A Message from our CEO: Durban 2023, A Tale of Triumph and Transformation

In the realm of change and progress, it’s often challenging to gauge the intensity and determine whether it brings forth positive outcomes.

Moments like these are hard to put into words, but the pressure we felt throughout our journey to Durban was undeniable – driven by the relentless pursuit of achieving our objectives.

However, as we bid farewell to Durban (Ethekwini), South Africa, after successfully hosting the ITTF World Table Tennis Championship Finals, we knew deep within our souls that every ounce of effort was worth it.

It has been 84 years since the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) hosted its marquee event in Africa. So, you can only imagine the pride that swelled within us when we concluded yet another historic chapter in our sports journey—the unforgettable ITTF World Championship Finals in Durban, South Africa. As the Egypt cup was ceremoniously handed over to the next organizers in Busan, South Korea, it struck us just how long it had taken for the cup to return to the beautiful shores of this remarkable continent— we can be sure that the King Farouk from Egypt who started the tradition in 1939 would not have imagined that it would have taken so long to return.

Preparations for this event were nothing short of intense, as is customary. Each passing year in recent times brought new challenges we had never faced before. Terms like “load shedding” entered our vocabulary, plunging us into a world of electricity and energy management that we had to swiftly master. Yet, the local organisers remained unfazed, having already grappled with these issues day in and day out.

The ITTF and WTT operations team, having matured, grown and developed in recent years, seamlessly integrated themselves into the event. They worked hand in hand with the Local Organising Committee (LOC), their unwavering commitment serving as the backbone of the World Championship’s success. Together, they painted a vivid and awe-inspiring picture of South Africa, showcasing the country’s beauty and the spirit of table tennis to the world. To those unsung heroes who toiled tirelessly behind the scenes, both from the LOC and the ITTF/WTT, we owe a debt of gratitude that words fail to express. Take a well-deserved rest, for you have truly earned it. And a special shoutout to Joe Carrim and Hajera Kajee, whose unwavering dedication, patience, and collaboration with our professional team were instrumental in ensuring this triumph.

But let’s not forget the shining stars who stole the limelight—the Chinese players, unrivalled and imperious. Just when we thought the pressure might chip away at their dominance, they unleashed an unprecedented display of skill, taking home all the gold. Sun Yingsha and Fan Zhendong, proving their World Number One status, demonstrated their sheer mastery by defeating formidable opponents and cementing their positions atop the table tennis world.

Fan Zhendong now enters the elite ranks as a two-time World Champion, setting his sights on Doha 2025 to potentially join the legendary Ma Long as a three-time consecutive champion. The feat of winning three titles in a row earns the winner a special replica of the St Brides vase —a recognition of their unrivalled excellence. We were honoured to bestow this vase upon Ma Long in Durban. Although Ma Long may have fallen short of his own expectations, reaching only the semi-finals this time around, it served as a testament to his extraordinary skill. However, it was his heartfelt speech delivered in both Chinese and English that truly touched our hearts, showcasing the humility and grace of an absolute legend in our sport.

While the Chinese players reigned supreme, it’s important to acknowledge the achievements of players from other nations as well. Japanese, Korean, Hong Kong Chinese, and German players all returned home with well-deserved medals, adding their own unique colours to the tapestry of this championship.

Yet, it was the moments beyond the medals that truly resonated with us. When Omar Assar, a local hero from Egypt, became only the second African player in history to reach the quarterfinals at a World Championship. It was a powerful statement that African table tennis was not only alive but also capable of competing at the highest level. The embrace shared between Omar Assar and Quadri Aruna after his triumphant victory remains etched in our memories, representing a symbol of solidarity and triumph against all odds—an indelible highlight of the tournament.

Another extraordinary tale unfolded through the journey of Danish player Anders Lind. A mere 18 months ago, Anders faced a devastating car accident that left doctors questioning if he would ever walk again. However, fuelled by his determination and resilience, he defied all expectations, defying the odds to reach the quarterfinals of the World Championships. It was an extraordinary achievement, offering hope and inspiration to those facing their own adversities. Anders Lind’s story serves as a reminder that with unwavering dedication and an unyielding spirit, hope can triumph over the darkest of moments. In this realm of sport, we discover invaluable life lessons that are often elusive in other spheres.

Now, we embark on a new chapter, hoping to alleviate the weight of change that has burdened us. Our faith in the sport’s potential to conquer new horizons remains unwavering. Creating pathways to the finals, expanding opportunities for our beloved sport across the globe—these endeavours are crucial. We strive to expose more people to the joy of table tennis, cultivating a truly global game that transcends boundaries and unites enthusiasts from every corner of the world.

For 82 long years, the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) had confined its World Championships to the borders of Europe and Asia. The World Championships Finals stand as a beacon, beckoning us to venture into uncharted territories. We hold steadfast hope to explore new markets for the 2027 event, perhaps the Latin American regions or the untouched shores of Oceania.

Amidst the intense pressure experienced since the reforms reshaped our World Championship formats and the unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, we have achieved remarkable milestones for our most prestigious event, the World Table Tennis Championships, over the past three years:

  1. In 2021, we witnessed the historic debut of the World Championships Finals in the United States, hosted in the vibrant city of Houston, Texas.

  2. The following year, during the throes of the pandemic, the World Team Championships Finals unfolded in Chengdu, China.

  3. And now, in 2023, after an agonising 84-year absence, the World Championships Finals returned to the continent of Africa, gracing the splendid city of Durban, South Africa. It was a homecoming of monumental significance, an event that will be etched in our collective memory for years to come.

This resurgence, following the regrettable cancellation of the 2020 edition, reaffirms the unrivalled stature of our World Championships on the global sporting calendar. As we navigate through the learnings of the reforms, the birth of WTT, and the post-COVID era, we find ourselves in a promising position.

As we cast our gaze toward future editions, our trajectory takes us back to the Middle East, where Qatar awaits for the second time to embrace the championship. Having previously hosted the teams event in 2004, Qatar will now step into the limelight, welcoming the individual events in 2025 for the very first time.

It’s exciting times ahead for the Championships.

In closing, we extend once again our deepest gratitude to all those who played a part in the resounding success of the ITTF World Championships Finals Durban 2023 in South Africa. The positive, soul-stirring emotions that enveloped us during our time there still resonate within our hearts. May we never have to wait another 84 years before we bring this grand event back to the splendid continent of Africa!

Steve Dainton ITTF Group CEO

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