by Ian Marshall, Editor
In an age before gender equality had really bitten deep, only a men’s singles event was held, there was no women’s singles competition but that is no criticism of the African Table Tennis Federation.
The policy was not out of step; the World Cup was first staged in 1980 in Hong Kong, it has been held every subsequent year and did not change its name to the Men’s World Cup until 1996 when the first counterpart tournament for women was staged, as with their male counterparts Hong Kong provided the venue for the inaugural edition.
Notably, in 1997 when the second Africa Cup was held in the South African city of Port Elizabeth, a women’s event was staged; the winner Egypt’s Shaimaa Abdul-Aziz; the men’s singles champion a promising 17 year old, also from Egypt, Ahmed Ali Saleh. He succeeded Nigeria’s Sule Olalaye who had won in Kinshasa. In just over four months time Ahmed Ali Saleh will celebrate his 40th birthday. He will play in Lagos.
Ever since those two initial editions, the men’s singles event has always been won by either Egypt or Nigeria; Egypt has won 10 times, Nigeria on seven occasions. Furthermore, Ahmed Ali Saleh later won in 2005 in Brazzaville and in 2011 in Rabat; he needs one more win to match the best of all time and in Lagos that is going to take a momentous effort.
Only one player has won four times; the name is Quadri Aruna; against the odds in 2009 he succeeded in Rabat, in 2014 he won in Lagos, before succeeding in 2016 in Khartoum and the following year in Agadir.
However, in the women’s event, in which Cameroon has won once, Nigeria twice, Congo Brazzaville three times and Egypt 10 times, no player can match the latter nation’s Dina Meshref.
She has won six times, a list that includes the most recent five; no other player has won the women’s event more than twice. Shaimaa Abdul-Aziz retained her title in 1998 in Cairo; Congo Brazzaville’s Han Xing emerged successful in 2009 in Rabat and in 2013 in Oyo.
In Lagos the record held by Dina Meshref is safe and sound but can one of the most talented players from the continent turn back the years, can Ahmed Ali Saleh make it four?