by Olalekan Okusan, ITTF Africa Press Officer and Nathaniel Somuah, Côte d’Ivoire Table Tennis Federation
Moreover, after a one-day break on Saturday 7th April, the city will also host the 2018 African Junior and Cadet Championships; play will conclude on Friday 13th April.
A daunting schedule but Côte d’Ivoire is ready; Karou Alfred, Vice President of the Côte d’Ivoire Table Tennis Federation is confident that a most worthwhile sporting and educational event will unfold.
“We have been preparing since August 2017. The main thing was to find sponsors for the event. For us to host an event like this, it is most important for players who do not get the chance to travel to Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco or outside the continent, to get the chance to play with the Chinese and Indian players. This will boost their confidence and improve upon their game. We are also going to have coverage on national television and it will increase awareness and spread the game far.” Karou Alfred
It is an opportunity and one of the major reasons why in 2002, the ITTF World Junior Circuit was inaugurated. It is an chance to savour international and under the guidance of Papa Lamine Coulibaly, the National Technical Director, players from the Côte d’Ivoire are ready.
“The team has been training for five months. When there is a vacation for the kids from school, we have intensive training but when they are in school we train only on Saturdays and Sundays. The national team was in Cotonou, Benin, for the China international tournament and came back with three medals; one silver and two bronze medals.” Papa Lamine Coulibaly
Every effort has been made to stage a successful tournament; the close links that have been established with China being a major boost; a fact clearly appreciated by Nzi Brou Michel Gabriel, President of the Côte d’Ivoire Table Tennis Federation.
“Ideally, we should have gone for a training tour to intensify our preparation but we were unable to go. Luckily, the Chinese government gave scholarship opportunities to six of our players for training and some of them will be featuring in this tournament. We want to thank the Chinese government for this opportunity. When you play in an international tournament, you aim at a gold medal as a host country, but whatever we get, we will be happy.” Nzi Brou Michel Gabriel
Support from China, the country having entered three cadet age girls in the guise of Chen Junjin, Hu Yininghua and Lin Lequan; certainly their presence adds to the quality of the competition.
“I think this is a very good opportunity for Côte d’Ivoire to showcase its young players. It is an opportunity to also show the whole country the importance and impact of table tennis. As president, my main objective is to win a medal. Even if we do not win any, the experiences gathered by the players will be good to build upon. It is an opportunity for the players to play with others from other countries to gain experience. Also, this competition has given us an opportunity to get equipment for player development. We are grateful to the African Table Tennis Federation and the International Table Tennis Federation.” Nzi Brou Michel Gabriel
Win or lose, medals or not; it is a step forward for Côte d’Ivoire, a step forward for Africa.