02 Apr 2020

An Olympic silver medallist, two-time Men's World Cup champion, seven-time Olympian and six-time medal-winner at the World Table Tennis Championships, Zoran Primorac enjoyed a prolific playing career.

Since 2018, the Croatian is Chair of the ITTF Athletes Commission, which is representing the voice of the players. Here Primorac gives an exclusive interview in light of the global COVID-19 pandemic and the effect this has had on athletes around the world.

Effect of Tokyo 2020 postponement

“All of the players agree that the decision to postpone the Olympic and Paralympic Games until the summer of 2021 was the only viable option, given the continued uncertainty that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused globally. It’s imperative to put the health and safety of the athletes, coaches, officials and fans before anything else.

“Of course, this all has implications on the qualification pathways to the Games, but I think we can all agree that the situation we now have is the fairest one possible. All the players that have already sealed their tickets for Tokyo remain confirmed for next summer’s Olympic and Paralympic events, while the rest of the players will hopefully have the opportunity to do so via the remaining qualification events, which need to be rescheduled.

“The last resort solution would be to determine qualified players via the World Ranking system, but of course we all hope that it doesn’t come to that and that the pandemic clears to allow time for the remaining qualification events to be held and give all athletes the fairest route to Tokyo.”

Players preparing as best they can

“Despite the Olympics and Paralympics announcement, the athletes – just like everyone else – really have no idea when they will be able to return to action. It’s obvious that the COVID-19 pandemic has severely disrupted their preparations. So many players build towards the Olympics and Paralympic, so that they reach their peak by the end of the four-year cycle leading up to the Games. This goes for all the sports, in which athletes have been training for hours on end each day to be in prime condition. Now they have to readjust and make this fifth year as good as they possibly can.

“However, we still don’t know when the ITTF events can resume, so it’s unclear just how much competitive action the players will be able to enjoy before the Games are supposed to start next summer in Tokyo. Hopefully, we can get back to normal as quickly as possible, but until then, players can only do what they are doing, which is to train and exercise, and that must be from the safety of their own homes, given the vast majority of them are self-isolating.

“Those players who have a table tennis table at home are fortunate, while many are just focusing on keeping fit or doing creative home-based exercises to keep their hand-eye coordination on point. There have been some awesome, uplifting videos posted by several players on social media and it is also very important that they stay mentally active and healthy during this challenging period.”

Opportunity for positive change

“Make no mistake, this is a difficult time for everyone, but we all have to try to turn this negative into a positive. My advice to the players is that they invest the extra time into pursuing their interests and learning new things to help them develop both personally and professionally.

“It could be picking up a new language, studying online to gain an extra qualification, practising a musical instrument, reading books, or simply spending more time with the family. There are many ways in which people can use this time effectively to become better and stronger afterwards and in the long-term.”

Support always available

“I would like to emphasise that all players can reach out to me regarding any queries they might have or any support they might need. We at the ITTF are here to help as much as possible and I would also like to use this time to strengthen and improve the network of communication with the athletes.

“We are actually sending out a survey to all the athletes for their input to ensure that all decisions made by the ITTF in response to the COVID-19 pandemic fully reflect their opinions, while they will be kept fully up to date on all decisions regarding the events schedule.

“This unique global situation might be out of our hands for now, but it’s times like these when strong, clear communication becomes even more essential to keep all of our sport’s stakeholders in the loop and pulling together in the right direction to confront the difficulties in the best way possible.”

Players are invited to get in contact with anyone at the ITTF Athletes Commission, including Zoran Primorac ([email protected]) for any queries they might have.

Features COVID-19 Zoran Primorac