With world-class facilities at its disposal, the UAE has all the credentials to hold a top international event like the World Cup and the table tennis federation official in charge of the calendar, Khalid el-Salhy, tells Ahmed Rizvi that the country could be a perfect host for a tournament involving the top 20 players The best table tennis players in the region have been in Dubai this week for the GCC Championships, and if the organisers have their way, the top players in the world could soon be heading this way to play in a World Cup.
Khalid el-Salhy, chairman of the International Table Tennis Federation's (ITTF) calendar working group, has been impressed by the smooth running of this week's event at the Al Nasr Club and will back the UAE Table Tennis Association's (UAETTA) request to hold a prestigious international tournament. "The UAE have expressed their hope of hosting an ITTF world title event in the next two years. We will have some meetings before the end of this week to make a final decision," he said.
The ITTF yesterday announced that the 2009 Team World Cup will be held in Linz, Austria in October. "I believe their [UAE's] best chance could be the World Cup for singles. It will not be easy to allot the 2010 event; but I believe the 2011 event will be held here. "I think the UAE will be a perfect host for the top players of the world. The world's top 20 players will come down here for the tournament, which carries good prize money and also gets good media coverage around the world."
El-Salhy has been an interested observer this week, and has held talks with Mohsin Eldemerdash, technical director of the UAETTA. "There can be no complaints regarding the hospitality or transportation, and the timetable is perfect. I believe this is a sort of model for top organisation of an event," he said. "Of course, this shouldn't come as a surprise in the UAE or the Gulf because they have the resources to provide good organisation.
"They have got very good facilities at the clubs, which are great venues. The hotels here, of course, are some of the best in the world. "The transportation is also top quality. So all the standards for quality organisation are available here." The ITTF are likely to make an official announcement at this year's World Cup (Singles) in Moscow in October and el-Salhy feels hosting the tournament could provide a major boost to the sport in the country, with an Emirati - likely to be the UAE No 1 Rashid Abdul Hamid - allowed to enter the elite field.
"It will be a good chance for the hosts to secure at least one player from their country to play against the world's best," he said. "The game will also get a boost here. The fans will be able to see the top stars of the game in action. It will be good for the youngsters and their coaches." Eldemerdash hopes hosting such an event would allow his sport to gain some of the limelight enjoyed by more popular sports like football and cricket.
"We have a better chance of winning medals for the country. A bit more support from the media can also help us in getting more players," he said. The sport has been able to generate a steady stream of players with clubs like Al Nasr, Al Wasl and Al Shabab making the highest contributions. "For the men's team we have about 60 to 65 players to choose from. In the juniors and cadets, the number of players is a bit more," said Eldemerdash.
"In the men's team, Nasr, Wasl and Shabab are traditionally the stronger teams. For juniors and cadets, you could add Al Shaab to the list. "Al Ain also have very good players with enough potential. They have also hired Chinese coaches so they are moving forward." The UAETTA have also hired two coaches to groom the youngsters and fine-tune the seniors. Xiao Daili, a Portuguese of Chinese origin, has been put at the helm of the men's team, who are currently ranked 76 in the world.
Sun Ting of China will be guiding the juniors, while Emirati Ayman Ahmed is in charge of the cadets. "When there are no national team commitments, the two Chinese coaches will be visiting the clubs and working with the club coaches, especially clubs who don't have very strong coaches," said Eldemerdash. "They will help the club coaches pick players and help them develop. We are planning to have a camp for players every two or three months. We want to get the maximum benefit from the presence of these Chinese coaches."
The two coaches will get busy straightaway as the players return to their clubs after the GCC Championship, training during the Ramadan break and before the start of the national league from October 1. "During Ramadan the players will be training with their clubs to prepare for the new season, the national league will start after Eid," said Eldemerdash. "In November we have the Asian Championships in India. After that we have the Gulf and Arab championships for teams in November and December.
"So we have a busy time ahead and hopefully it will be a successful time as well." The association had plans to open up certain categories of the league to expatriate children, but failed to get permission from the authorities. "We tried to get expatriates to play in the cadet or mini-cadet categories, but the authorities turned down our proposal because they are still conducting studies over the issue," revealed Eldemerdash.
"But we can have expatriates in the mini mini-cadets category, which is the under-10. It is not an official event so it is open to everyone. "Maybe we will get an approval from the ministry in the near future and these children can continue playing with us." firstname.lastname@example.org