25 Aug 2017

The capital and largest city in the small landlocked African country of Burundi, Bujumbura was the recent home for the Peace and Friendship Games, the eight edition of an event where sport is the vehicle to open pathways for understanding and co-operation.

Organised under the auspices of Peace and Sport, an independent organised based in Monaco whose mandate is to use sport to bring areas of conflict to one accord; proceedings commenced on Thursday 10th August and concluded on Sunday 13th August.

by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor

A wide ranging programme was on offer. Sports included basketball, baseball, boxing, football, judo, karate, rugby and volleyball plus of course high on the agenda, table tennis, high on the agenda. Additionally cultural activities were organised.

Venue for the whole event was the Scheppers School, with sports and youth centres from the Great Lakes region being invited. Notably athletes from the Democratic Republic of Congo made the journey.

A warm up routine essential before competition (Photo: courtesy of Kaka Lawson)

 

Responsible for table tennis was Togo’s Kaka Lawson, on many occasions a Course Conductor for the ITTF Development Programme. Two days were allocated to coaching, two days to competition.

“A total of 24 coaches for all over the country took part in the Club Coaches Course held on Thursday 10th and Friday 11th August. They were enthusiastic and very motivated; this course was an opportunity for many of them to have their first coaching experience. At the end they were still hungry for more knowledge; a little disappointed that the course only lasted two days. During the course training sessions were held to reinforce the technical and tactical capacities of young players.” Kaka Lawson

The coaching sessions concluded; the tournament comprised three events for players aged 11 to 16 years: Boys’ Singles, Girls’ Singles and Mixed Doubles. Gitega and Gihanga Centers emerged the most successful but the important factor was that sport brought young people together in a spirit of harmony and understanding.

Kaka Lawson (centre) with leading sporting personalities (Photo: courtesy of Kaka Lawson)

 

Most significantly, the event attracted leading sporting personalities, attending in the role of Champions of Peace. Frenchman Pascal Gentil, Taekwando bronze medallist at the Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 Olympic Games was present, as was the host nation’s Baptiste Alaize. He competed at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games being in action in the long jump and sprints. Likewise, former French rugby international François Tordo attended.

All proved the centre of attention as they gave advice to young aspiring athletes and recounted their sporting experiences; in particular they stressed the importance of fair play and that doping had no place in sport.

“The aim was to educate young people to play sport without cheating, to tell them that it can be a means of self-fulfilment and social integration. Also that disability is not a barrier to high level sport. Table tennis has a good tradition in the country, National Championships are held every year but as in many African countries, there is a lack of materials and equipment.” Kaka Lawson

The medal podium at the close of play (Photo: courtesy of Kaka Lawson)

 

Likewise, celebrated coaches from a range of sports were present to support the initiative. In particular, Valerio Ciafoni from baseball and softball attended, as did Elliot Fleys, coach of the French Baseball and Softball Federation.

A range of sports but table tennis has a special place in Burundi. Guided by Glenn Tepper, ITTF Deputy Chief Executive and Leandro Olvech, ITTF Director-Development, in 2011 the project “Ping Pong Paix”, was initiated.


The 2011 Burundi project promoted by ITTF Development, Education and Training

A successful visit was made to Burundi; meanwhile, one year later a group of players and officials from the small African country journeyed to Europe to attend the Liebherr 2012 World Team Championships in Dortmund.

“This is another good example of our fruitful partnership with Peace and Sport where the results can be seen on the field, many children having fun while playing table tennis, many coaches gaining more knowledge and communities being brought together through sport. It is not the first time for us in this region, we already launched the Ping Pong Paix project some years ago in partnership with the German Table Tennis Association and it was a big success. Last but not least, thanks to our front soldier on the field Kaka Lawson who did a great job as always.” Leandro Olvech


A group from Burundi visited Dortmund to watch the Liebherr 2012 World Team Championships

Once again, a splendid initiative was staged in Burundi, one where sport provided a vehicle for camaraderie, understanding and friendship.

At the conclusion of proceedings the one common factor was smiles; win or lose, it had been fun to play table tennis; that is the very essence of sport.

Unity, smiles the important factor (Photo: courtesy of Kaka Lawson)

 

Development, Education and Training