Table tennis reflects reality

Table tennis reflects reality
International Table Tennis Federation president Thomas Weikert.

Sport's chief urges teams to embrace trend of China-born paddlers worldwide.

While it may not be ideal that more table tennis teams are fielding naturalised citizens - specifically from China - on their rosters, it is the reality of an increasingly globalised world, said the chief of the sport's international governing body.

For International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) president Thomas Weikert, teams can take positives from it, rather than resist and resent the phenomenon.

"We have a globalised world. It's not like 20 years ago," said the German, in town for the ITTF's executive meeting, at the Swissotel Merchant Court yesterday.

"You cannot have a rule forever that forbids a player (originally) from another country to play (for another team)."

The ITTF currently bars foreign-born paddlers over the age of 21 from playing for their new countries in the World Championships and the World Cup. Those below the age of 21 can compete after various sit-out periods depending on their ages.

Still, Weikert conceded that there are some who struggle to accept and embrace naturalised citizens as their own. There are even critics who ridicule a tie between China and another team consisting of former Chinese citizens as an internal match-up within the table tennis powerhouse.

Weikert, who is also president of the German Table Tennis Association, said: "I understand that, of course. Some say there are so

many Chinese (players). But it's not dependent on the face - whether you're dark, white, or Chinese. We have to look at (the issue), but I don't think it's a problem." Using his own national women's team as an example, he noted the three naturalised citizens from China were required to live in

Germany for a minimum of eight years and speak German before receiving their citizenships. He also felt that their presence helped spur Germany's crop of young players, rather than discourage them from fighting for a spot on the national team.

"Often, they practise more and are encouraged to play better because they see that if they cannot play better than these China-born

players, then they have no chance. We see it as positive," he said.

Even as he recognised a prolonged dominance by the Chinese could prove problematic for the sport, Weikert pointed out that there are other things going for the sport.

For starters, the ITTF has 220 member federations - even more than football's Fifa (209). Its status on the Olympic programme was also underlined in 2013 when table tennis was promoted a tier by the International Olympic Committee to receive more Olympic revenue distribution.

He said: "It's not the fault of the Chinese that they are so strong. They are opening (up) by themselves - they send coaches and players to other countries. It's a good way for others to improve.

"The way (to stop China's domination) is to practise - to practise hard and close this gap.

"We're glad table tennis is played all over the world. China's dominance is there, but we have the world behind us."

maychen@sph.com.sg

All for it

"Often, they practise more and are encouraged to play better because they see that if they cannot play better than these China-born players, then they have no chance. We see it as positive."

- THOMAS WEIKERT, president of ITTF as well as the German Table Tennis Association, on how naturalised citizens from China have spurred local-born players


This article was first published on Feb 08 2015.
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