10 May 2021

The best players in the world should compete; also, as many players from as many countries as possible should take part. Such was the mandate of the International Olympic Committee in 1980 when approval was given to table tennis being included in the Olympic Games.

Added to the difficulties experienced by the current pandemic, it is one of the major reasons why an extensive qualification procedure is required.

by Ian Marshall

In fact, if you are so minded, qualification can be traced back to Saturday 7th September 2013, when Tokyo was announced the winner of the ballot. Automatically the host nation receives a direct entry. The full complement of places, a men’s and women’s team each with three players; from those players, two compete in each of the men’s and women’s singles plus one mixed doubles pair.

Continental team qualification

Conversely, for the rest qualification was the order of affairs; the first major task to secure one of the 16 places in each of the men’s team and women’s team events. In addition, two players from each team compete in the respective men’s and women’s singles events. Win and a place in Tokyo was the goal.

Continental qualification commenced matters in June 2019 at the European Games; Germany won both the men’s and women’s team titles, Timo Boll emerged the men’s singles champion but, having already been successful in the team event, the Tokyo place went instead to the European Singles Qualification Tournament (ESQT). Denmark’s Jonathan Groth, the runner up, was also qualified, likewise Tomislav Pucar from Croatia, however, the latter’s place was also released later following Croatia’s Men’s Team qualification in January 2020 in Gondomar.

Portugal’s Fu Yu won women’s singles gold, with Germany’s Han Ying and Luxembourg’s Ni Xia Lian occupying the other two qualifiers spots. Same as in the men’s side, Han Ying’s quota went back to the ESQT. Finally, in the Mixed Doubles, Germany’s Patrick Franziska and Petrissa Solja reserved the top step of the mixed doubles podium and hence a ticket for the inaugural Olympic mixed doubles event at Tokyo 2020.

Patrick Franziska and Petrissa Solja secured the mixed doubles ticket to Tokyo at the 2019 European Games in Minsk (Photo: Rémy Gros)

Later in August at the African Games, Egypt secured the men’s and women’s team titles, the following month at the Asian Championships it was the same for China. In October at the North American Qualification event, the United States followed suit, as did Brazil later in the month at the equivalent tournament for Latin America. In December Australia followed the pattern in the Oceania region.

Thus, at the conclusion of the continental tournaments, six teams – Australia, Brazil, China, Egypt, Germany, United States – were Tokyo bound.

World Team Qualification Tournament

Add Japan to the occasion, seven teams had qualified. The remaining nine were decided in January 2020 at the World Team Qualification Tournament in Gondomar.

Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong and Korea Republic progressed in both disciplines. For the men, Croatia, France, Portugal, Serbia, Slovenia and Sweden gained success; for the women it was Austria, DPR Korea, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Singapore.

Team qualification which, by definition, realised 32 players in each of the men’s and women’s singles events, concluded.

Individual Qualification

A focus on the team ethic but during the last five months of 2019, there were individual qualifiers. In August at the Pan American Games, Brazil’s Hugo Calderano and Puerto Rico’s Adriana Diaz emerged the respective men’s and women’s singles winners; thus, making Tokyo reservations.

Similarly, at the Agricultural Bank of China 2019 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals, the four mixed doubles semi-finalists all gained places. Notably the runners up were Jun Mizutani and Mima Ito; being from Japan, meaning the host quota will be released.

The accent now firmly on individual events; in early 2020, as a result of the African Qualification tournament, four men and four women, plus one mixed doubles pair qualified, as in North America did one man and one woman plus a mixed pair. Additionally, at the West Asia tournament, places for one man and one woman were decided, the woman notably being Syria’s 11-year-old Hend Zaza!

Syria’s Hend Zaza amongst the list of qualifiers (Photo courtesy of Hong Kong Table Tennis Association Ltd)

A break of one year owing to the pandemic, in March 2021, Doha was the city in focus. At the World Qualification Tournament, four men and five women gained men’s and women’s singles places. Immediately, ensuing the remaining regions of Asia drew swords, the overall outcome being six men and six women from the continent plus one mixed doubles pair succeeded.

Next on the agenda, in April, the Latin American Qualification Tournament in Rosario, witnessed four men and three women in addition to one mixed doubles pair gaining qualification. Following soon after in Guimarães, the European equivalent paved way for five men and four women to gain Tokyo places.

One further qualification tournament awaited; that of Oceania but ultimately proved impossible owing to travel restrictions. One place available in each of the men’s singles, women’s singles, and one mixed doubles place available; the Olympic ranking for Saturday 1st May, taking into consideration those players eligible, decided the outcome.

Mixed Doubles Quota

With the Oceania places determined it now means that six mixed doubles positions remain to be allocated, as the winners and runners up at the 2020 ITTF World Tour tournaments in Germany and Qatar belong to Associations with pairs already qualified, while the Japan Open could not be held and the host quota is not to be used following the earlier qualification of a Japanese pair in December 2019.

The first five of those spots are allocated based on the Olympic qualification rankings for May 2021, and the host quota place will be reallocated following the world rankings in June. In all instances, only one pair per national association is eligible to compete in Tokyo.

Last Step

Events concluded, decisions made, one man and one woman receive a place courtesy of the Tripartite system; the players selected from eligible National Olympic Committees according to the IOC criteria, which is based on the number of overall entries (all sports) in the previous editions of the Olympic Games.

Almost there, the final step: positions in the men’s singles and women’s singles still available, the leading eligible names on the June 2021 Olympic Rankings, not already qualified, gain Tokyo places.

A long journey but necessary, the goals set over four decades ago duly met.

General News Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Timo Boll Jonathan Groth Fu Yu Pavel Sirucek Hend Zaza