Fame or Blame?
So should we blame the Chinese for their fame?
Thursday, April 15, 2004
A message from Adham Sharara, ITTF President
China is without a doubt the most successful table tennis nation in recent history. The performance of the Chinese men and women at the recent Liebherr World Team Championships in Qatar reinforced the position of the dominant Chinese. Is this good or bad for the development of table tennis?
It is no secret that the huge and continuous success of the Chinese table tennis players has many people worried about the future of our sport. The fear is that the sport will be regionalized and that interest will be lost if the Chinese continue to dominate. That of course is one very negative view. This current view is shared by many and is based on the premise that if Chinese players win all the time then the other players and the spectators will lose interest. Of course it's true that spectators and TV audiences, even in China, may lose interest if China, or any other country, dominates our sport for a long time, and if the final match result could be predicted in advance. But the assumption that the opponents would be discouraged and lose interest in competing against this admirable adversary is a notion I refuse to accept. A defeatist attitude does not belong amongst the elite of our sport.
There are always two ways to look at an issue. The negative pessimistic view, or the positive optimistic view. Let's concentrate on the positive and think how the success of the Chinese could help our sport.
First, in my opinion, it should motivate the top players from other countries to want to beat the Chinese and thus raise their own level and train harder to achieve such a goal. Let's not forget that in Doha the Japanese women and the German men had excellent matches against the Chinese. It's true that the Chinese were stronger, but with motivation, good preparation and good tactics the matches were very close. Instead of saying: "the Chinese will win again", or "let's limit their participation", or "it's not interesting to watch them", etc. Let the challengers say: "let's find a way to beat them", and "let's practice more than them", and "let's compete more often against them", and "let's be aggressive and forceful". This attitude will generate a serious challenge to the Chinese players and will create a great rivalry between the Champions and their challengers. We are sitting on a golden opportunity to create an exciting and attractive rivalry between the Chinese and their challengers from the rest of the World. The ITTF has taken the initiative, with the support of the Chinese Table Tennis Association and will promote a challenge match "China against the World" in December this year. .
Second, we must look deeper and understand why the Chinese are so strong. The have more players? They have better coaching? They have more resources? Table Tennis is a national sport? Perhaps all these reasons are valid, but to me there are two main reasons; a) they practice more (quantity) and more efficiently (quality), b) they compete more. These are two simple factors. The decision to compete for the Chinese players is not based on revenue but on winning. Income is a byproduct of their winnings. This factor can be seen not only with the Chinese table tennis players but also with any athlete in any sport. When the motivation to win is "intrinsic" (coming from a desire within one's self) the result is always positive. But when the motivation to win is "extrinsic" (external reward, prize money, to satisfy others, etc.) the result may be good for a while, but eventually winning is no longer the outcome.
Why go too far? Let's look at some of our own players and what they have achieved. Werner Schlager had the choice to play for a lot more money, but he chose to stick to his plan and take part in as many Pro Tour events as possible. In Paris, in top form and with a sharp mind, he made his dream a reality. Financial gain came as a "byproduct" of his achievement.
Third, the Chinese themselves have a responsibility to promote table tennis. Like the Americans promote Basketball, the Canadian promote Ice Hockey, the Brazilians promote Football, etc., the Chinese players and coaches through their National Association are the "God Father" of table tennis. They must help other associations and they must find ways to promote table tennis at every opportunity. The top athletes are role models, they should be able to converse fluently with the press, mingle with other players, encourage the younger generation, attract spectators and in general be the ambassadors of our sport.
So should we blame the Chinese for their fame? No, we should all work together and take advantage of a situation that could create extreme interest in our sport.
Adham Sharara is the current president of the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF)
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