by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
Does the European Championships have such a significance?
It may not reach the same heights as the Super Bowl in the United States but I would suggest that of all the continental championships, it is perhaps the most revered.
Ask in 1986, the most important tournament on the calendar, the World Championships would have received the top vote; for a player from the old continent next on the list would have been the European Championships.
Now 30 years later, there is no doubt that the top event is the Olympic Games; the World Cup had become an integral event on the calendar but has not the European Championships maintained its status as next in line to the World Championships?
Consider the Europe Top 16 earlier in the year, there were some notable names who, for whatever reason, were not able to accept the invitation; the full might of the continent is present in Budapest.
Compare with Latin America and I have no doubt that the Latin America Cup now carries a greater value than the Latin American Championships; that is not a criticism, just a statement of fact.
The European Championships has maintained its status, even though there has been notable tinkering with the event; explaining that the most recently crowned European Mixed Doubles champions did not win the title at the European Championships is surely a potential trivia question?
Maintaining status, it is the same reason as any other sporting event that is special; it is tradition, the event has established a tradition of its very own.
Maybe we have to go back to the very roots, the tournament was first planned for 1926 but with players from India wishing to compete, the title Europe changed to World.
Some three decades later and had it not been for the Second War, maybe sooner, the first European Championships were staged in 1958, at time when Japan had made its mark on the world scene.
A major event had been created and it had been created at a time when there was space for another major event. At the time, in that category, there was only the World Championships. There is space in any sport for major events but if there are too many, they are not major.
The European Championships arrived at the right time to gain a special status.
Equally as we turn the clock forward and look at the Men’s Singles event, there are celebrated names who won World titles but never donned the European crown.
The event came too late for England’s Johnny Leach or Hungary’s Ferenc Sido, the latter, the last pimple rubber bat Men’s Singles World Champion when he won in 1953 in Budapest but for players of a more recent era the European Championships was well established.
In 1994 Frenchman, Jean-Philippe Gatien the reigning World champion at the time, was beaten in the early rounds by Estonia’s Igor Solopov; he never secured the European crown.
It is the same for Austria’s Werner Schlager, World Champion but never European champion; equally both Poland’s Andrzej Grubba and Croatia’s Zoran Primorac won the Men’s World Cup but never the European title.
A tradition has been established, the tournament was initiated at the right time but the fact that great names in the sport never secured the top prize, does that not gives the event a certain pedigree.
Does that not also make the event what it is? Very special, very special indeed; if you are not sure then just ask the players, they’ll tell you.