17 Apr 2023

As the world prepares to return to Africa for the World Championships in Durban, let’s look back at the first time the event was held on the continent.

1939 was a year of great uncertainty and tension as the world teetered on the brink of war. Against this backdrop, Cairo, Egypt hosted the ITTF World Table Tennis Championships in what would be the last major international sporting event before the outbreak of World War II. The tournament may have been overshadowed by the looming conflict, but it remains an important moment in the history of the sport and a testament to the power of sport to bring people together.

Despite the tumultuous times, the ITTF World Championships 1939 saw the entry of two of the greatest players in the history of the sport, Victor Barna of Hungary and Richard Bergmann of Austria. Both were without a national identity, having fled their home countries due to the rise of Nazi Germany, and both feared for their lives. For the very first time, they represented England at the tournament and they went on to emerge as winners of the Men’s doubles event. Their presence marked a turning point in the history of the sport, helping to shape the international table tennis community as we know it today.

But the 1939 Championships also had an important aspect for the African continent. It was a milestone event for Egypt, and the first time the Championships were hosted outside of Europe. This was significant because at that time, the sport was dominated by players from central Europe, and the presence of an African country was a noteworthy achievement.

The event also saw the formation of the first-ever Egyptian women’s team, thanks to King Farouk of Egypt. Without his encouragement, women’s table tennis in Egypt may have taken much longer to develop.

While the event had a relatively low entry due to the uncertainty of the times, it nevertheless showcased some of the brightest talents in the sport at the time. The players competed with passion and determination, showing the world the beauty and skill of table tennis and inspiring future generations of players.

This historical event in Cairo showcased some of the brightest talents in the sport at that time. The winners included Vlasta Depetrisová (TCH) for women’s singles, Richard Bergmann (ENG) for men’s singles, Hilde Bussmann and Gertrude Pritzi (GER) for women’s doubles, Viktor Barna and Richard Bergmann (ENG) for men’s doubles, and Bohumil Váňa and Věra Votrubcová (TCH) for mixed doubles. In the team events, Czechoslovakia (Miloslav Hamr, Rudolf Karlecek, Václav Tereba, Bohumil Váňa) won the men’s team event, and Germany (Hilde Bussmann, Gertrude Pritzi) emerged victorious in the women’s team event. These winners made a mark in the history of the sport and inspired future generations of players

As we look back on the ITTF World Table Tennis Championships 1939, we are reminded of the power of sport to bring people together, even in the darkest of times. The legacy of the tournament lives on, inspiring players from all over the world, including those from Africa, who will take centre stage at the ITTF World Table Tennis Championships Finals 2023 in Durban. As we celebrate the return of the tournament to Africa after 84 years, let us never forget the history and heritage of the sport and the players who have helped to shape it into the global phenomenon it is today.

General News 2023 ITTF World Championships Finals

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