By Calvin Koh
Three Afghan athletes will compete in WTT Star Contender Doha and the Asian Table Tennis Championships when the two events start later this month at the Lusail Sports Arena in Qatar.
Mustafa Bakhtiyari and Mohammad Hosseini will participate in the Men’s Singles and Doubles Qualifying rounds, whilst compatriot Behrooz Daneshmand will feature in the Men’s Singles Qualifying round. WTT Star Contender Doha will be held from September 20-25, with the Asian Table Tennis Championships starting the following week on September 28 and concluding on October 5.
The Qatar Table Tennis Association (QTTA), as many times before, proved their devotion to the empowerment of Table Tennis and reacted with the noblest gesture – the Afghan trio that was originally planned to attend the Asian Championships were granted wildcard spots enabling them to be part of a stellar field at WTT Star Contender Doha. The WTT Contender Series event features Germany’s Dimitrij Ovtcharov and Jeon Jihee from the Republic of Korea, as the top seeds for the men’s and women’s singles competitions respectively.
President of Qatar Table Tennis Association and ITTF Deputy President, Mr Khalil Al-Mohannadi, said: “In times like this, we want to provide an opportunity for our Afghan table tennis athletes to compete and continue their professional table tennis journey.
“We are delighted to award them wildcards where they now have the opportunity to compete against some of the best table tennis players in the world. We are also assisting them with their visa and travel documents so that they will be ready to join us in Qatar as we get ready to showcase table tennis to the world again.”
As part of the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) Foundation “Solidarity through Table Tennis” initiative, the table tennis community stands united in ensuring the well-being of fellow athletes and that the preparation and participation of the Afghan national team at international events continue to run smoothly.
Steve Dainton, ITTF Group CEO, said: “We are happy to have the Afghanistan team participating at the WTT Star Contender and the Asian Championships together with other nations. One of the most remarkable things that sport can do is to bring people together. And the ITTF vision, Table Tennis. For All. For Life, is truly reflected by the us being inclusive and our joint efforts to bring them to Doha.”
Leandro Olvech, ITTF Foundation Director is delighted that “Table Tennis once again pledges to build bridges and take care of those in need. The Afghan team is being supported by the Qatar Table Tennis Association and the ITTF Group to be part of both events and compete with their peers from other countries even under the current complex situation in their country. We are pleased to promote solidarity through table tennis, and to use our sport as a tool to develop diplomatic and friendly relations among humankind.” said Olvech.
Heleena Kakar, President of the Afghanistan Table Tennis Federation (ATTF), was grateful for the solidarity the international table tennis community has shown for her country and looks forward to seeing her athletes step up to the tables at the Lusail Sports Arena.
“I know the chaos and turmoil in Afghanistan have broken hearts and hopes. But nothing can break the soul of an Afghan. Our government may have collapsed but our people are still standing and will keep standing tall. We’ll fight in every sphere of life for their bright future. Our table tennis team will represent Afghanistan in Doha and demonstrate to the world that nothing can take us back to the dogma of Stone Age.
“We will also never forget those who stood with us in our bad days. On behalf of ATTF and the people of Afghanistan my deep sense of gratitude goes to ITTF group for being a true partner. I wish success to our team and pray that their success in these hard times will become a new beginning for a bright future for ATTF and Afghanistan. Long live United and independent Afghanistan. We fail but we never lose, we fall but we never leave trying to stand,” said Kakar.