The ITTF World Championships Finals 2023 makes its way to Africa! For many African players, it is a dream come true, as they prepare to compete on African soil for the first time in over eight decades, with the last World Championships being in Cairo, Egypt in 1939.
But for the South African players who are set to play in Durban, this is not only a platform to showcase their talent in front of their home crowd but also a chance to grow the sport and inspire the next generation of players.
Among them is Priscilla Zodwa Maphanga, from Pretoria, who is eagerly anticipating the upcoming World Championships. “It’s an honour to be able to represent my country on home soil,” she says. “I’ve been playing table tennis for over 20 years, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to compete in front of my family, friends, and fellow South Africans.”
Maphanga’s journey to the world stage began in a community sports centre in Atteridgeville, where she was introduced to the sport by her older brother. She received coaching from Johannes Mathole before getting the chance to train under Mr. Zhou, a coach from Guangzhou, China, who helped take her game to the next level. As she prepares for Durban, she is aware the event will not be a walk in the park, but she is confident that she will make her country proud.
Theo Cogill, South Africa’s top player and a member of the Boundary Table Tennis Club, has faced numerous challenges in his career, both on and off the court and the upcoming event is another challenge he is excited to face. Ten years ago, a traumatic stabbing incident left him partially paralyzed and almost ended his career. However, with the support of his coaches and teammates, he fought his way back and is now a two-time national champion.
Cogill admits that it has not been an easy journey. “After my injury, I had to learn how to walk and move my limbs all over again, but I was determined to get back to playing table tennis, and I worked hard every day to make that happen. Winning the South African Men’s Singles title was a huge accomplishment for me, and I can’t wait to see what I can do at the World Championships.”
Another player who is no stranger to South African fans is Danisha Patel, a six-time South African women’s table tennis champion. She has been playing the sport since she was 10 years old and credits her grandfather and her brothers for introducing her to the game and helping her develop her skills.
“Table tennis has been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember,” she says. “It’s given me so many opportunities and helped me become the person I am today. I’m grateful for the chance to compete at the world championships and represent South Africa on the international stage.”
Chetan Nathoo, another talented South African, also has an impressive track record and has represented South Africa in various international events, including the Commonwealth Games, Africa Senior Championships, and All Africa Games, earning several medals in the process. In 2022, he won gold in singles and silver in doubles at the Botswana Open, as well as gold in singles at the Gauteng Premier League. Chetan’s hard work and dedication to his sport have not gone unnoticed, as he was nominated for Sportsman of the Year by the University of Johannesburg in 2015.
For these players, the ITTF World Championships Finals represent a chance to show the world what South African table tennis is all about. As Maphanga puts it, “This tournament is not just about us as individuals, it’s about our country and our culture. We want to show the world that we are a force to be reckoned with in this sport, and we are excited to have the opportunity to do that!”