by Romina Concha Sepulveda, ITTF Foundation Consultant
Appropriately, the venue chosen was the Japanese Gardens, a symbol of the friendship between Argentina and Japan, an understanding which commenced with migration some 120 years ago.
Many dignitaries graced the occasion. Notably present was Thomas Weikert, both ITTF President and ITTF Foundation President; he attended alongside Li Lingwei, member of the International Olympic Committee and Chair of the Co-ordination Commission for the third Summer Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires. Likewise Fernando Joffre, President of the Argentina Table Tennis Federation, as well as Masahiro Maehara, ITTF Executive Vice President and Vice Chair of the Japanese Table Tennis Federation were welcome guests, as was Ryu Seungmin and fellow athlete role model Galia Dvorak.
Similarly, present were representatives from the seven project locations in Buenos Aires which had been administered by the local project co-ordinator Soledad Tenzi.
Thomas Weikert opened proceedings, highlighting the importance of social responsibility with the strategy of the International Table Tennis Federation, explaining that the Buenos Aires-Tokyo initiative is the first legacy project of the ITTF Foundation.
Following Thomas Weikert, Li Lingwei expressed her gratitude for the endeavours that had been made, explaining that the project was part of a wider Olympic legacy. Next to speak was Fernando Joffre; he stated firmly that the project will continue until 2019, the focus very much being to use table tennis as a social and inclusive sport targeting young people, promoting values and creating bridges between different social groups.
“The idea was to plant seeds with values. We wanted to reach schools in the area of the Youth Olympic Games, like Villa Martelli, which impoverished children attend. The project has reached people with disabilities, so we are working with two organisations in Moron and Castelar, cities in the province of Buenos Aires. The project has also been developed outside Buenos Aires, in Misiones province, 1,000 kilometres from the capital city. We, as a national association, don’t only work to detect talents but also to promote social responsibility.” Fernando Joffre.
Concluding the speeches, Masahiro Maehara stressed that the project was also about friendship between two countries, people from different cultural or social backgrounds. Similar to all who had addressed those present, when needed most lucid translation services were provided by Wiebke Scheffler, ITTF Foundation Manager.
Formalities over, entertainment was on the agenda; Tango and Taiko as well as traditional Japanese drums delighted all present, so did the opportunity to play against Ryu Seungmin and Galia Dvorak.
Proceedings concluded with the appearance of Los Parraleños, a group of Japanese descendants who combined local Argentine cumbia music wearing kimonos with lips in the form of kisses painted on their faces.
Just as when playing table tennis, the children and adults enjoyed the show; any perceived gap between generations and cultures was successfully bridged, the cities of Buenos Aires and Tokyo were in harmony.