Ping-pong diplomacy

14 Feb 2018
POSTED BY Y Magazine

Over 100 players from 19 countries came down to Muscat to play table tennis. It wasn’t just about Oman trying to win the matches but about the nation winning the hearts. Alvin Thomas explores the drives

Table tennis or ping pong: call it whatever you may like, but its popularity is off the roof here in Oman. Little wonder then that the young students from the Sultanate partaking in the match against their rivals from 19 other countries are vocal about each point they score against their opponents, in the 2018 Oman Junior & Cadet Open ITTF Premium Junior Circuit, at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex in Baushar.

Each point is cheered on by the viewers and the kids are stoked about how close the match is. Alas, luck isn’t on their side and they must move over for the next contenders from the neighbouring Qatar.

On Day 1 of the tournament, Oman’s Mohammed al Mutawaa and Omar al Ghassani lost to Jordan 0-3 while the joint team (Oman-Egypt) lost to Syria 0-3. Oman’s Hamad al Balushi and Mishaal al Shuhi were defeated by a joint team from Egypt and Thailand while their teammates Abdulrahman al Zaabi and Abdullah al Balushi lost to the Iranian team 0-3.

However, the competition isn’t just about the nation vying for the title; it’s another feather in Oman’s cap for successfully hosting and organising the circuit.

“Omanis will definitely benefit from this tournament. Table tennis has a bright future here, especially if they keep working hard,” says Adil al Balushi, the media coordinator of the Omani Table Tennis Committee.

“After five years, we will definitely see Omani players getting medals in other tournaments, I can assure you.”

Kicked off at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex on Wednesday (February 7) under the auspices of His Highness Sayyid Kamil bin Fahd bin Mahmoud al Said, Assistant Secretary-General of the Deputy Prime Minister Office for Cabinet Affairs, the tournament quickly touts itself as the largest table tennis event ever to be hosted in the country.

And boy, they’re right in claiming that title. The statistics speak for itself: A total of 114 players hailing from countries such as China, India, Egypt, the Czech Republic, Greece, Pakistan, Indonesia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, Sweden, Lebanon, Scotland, Syria, Thailand, Yemen, the Philippines beside hosts Oman are participating in the tournament.

“We’re very happy to start the first leg of this tournament,” says Sajjad Baqir al Lawati, tournament director, adding that the other legs of the tournament will be held in European countries over the course of the year.

“We are bidding for bigger and bigger tournaments in Oman as well. It is a surprise but we can expect to see big things happening over the coming years,” he laughs.

Talking about the Omani table tennis team, he elucidates: “We are in the process of developing our team. We are taking kids of six years and training them to be a part of the new team.

“This will take a few years before we can become a strong team. But, we have five training centres in Oman. Starting last year, we have been working very hard to improve the team. We took the team to China and also other Arab tournaments to participate and gain experience to become better,” he adds.

Organised by the Omani Table Tennis Committee in cooperation with the ITTF (International Table Tennis Federation), the tournament ended on February 11. But there’s another motto behind this amazing tournament: showcasing the country to the masses.

Sabco Sports, Oman’s premier sporting agency, was also a sponsor for the event. Nic Cartwright, the managing director of the company, says: “There are so many people doing good things and we want to be able to help all. This means, sports will help the industry. And these guys have done a really great job organising this tournament.”

Sajjad remarks: “At the end of the day, it is the name of our country that will shine through this tournament.

“Over the last three tournaments, we had over 700 players here with their families. And that is helping the tourism industry in Oman. 

“One of the best parts about the tournament was that the players came along with their families – and it’s a trip for them. And hopefully after it is over they will spend a few days in Oman, and that will benefit the tourism sector in the country.” ν

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