The highly anticipated ITTF World Table Tennis Championships Finals 2023 has commenced, marking a historic moment as the tournament returns to African soil after 84 years. Over the next week, Durban, amidst its vibrant soul and culture, becomes the stage for showcasing table tennis excellence and igniting excitement among players, fans, and organisers.
To mark the beginning of this highly anticipated event, a spectacular opening ceremony was on display in the presence of ITTF President Petra Sörling, South African Table Tennis Board President Joe Carrim, and the Premier of the KwaZulu-Natal Province Nomusa Dube-Ncube with vibrant dance, acrobatic performances, stunning costumes celebrating the heritage and diversity of the city. The official theme song of the World Championships, “Durban is the place to be” was also unveiled, with a live performance of Kyle Desai and King Licious, setting the tone for the tournament.
President Sörling said in her opening speech, “Africa boasts the youngest population among continents, and it is increasingly important to empower the younger generation to shape the future of sports. Starting right here, celebrating the diversity of Durban.”
“It has not always been this way. While in 1956, the ITTF recognized the non-discriminatory South African Table Tennis Board as the governing body in South Africa, paving the way for other sports organizations to take similar initiatives, the South African Table Tennis Board could not send teams to any international events for decades. Today, I am immensely proud to open the World Championships in South Africa.”
The event started with a symbolic African duel as South Africa’s youngest player Dean Levy faced Senegal’s Ibrahima Diaw, setting the stage for the Men’s Singles round of 128, signifying the triumphant return of the World Championships to Africa.
Levy reflected on the unforgettable experience of playing in the opening match and expressed his support for fellow African players, stating, “Being in front of the home crowd as hosts of the tournament is a privilege I will never forget. This journey is a learning experience for me, and I eagerly look forward to representing my nation in future World Championships. Even though I’m out of the competition, I’ll be rooting for the African players!”
In the Women’s Singles, at 49 years old, Olufunke Oshonaike, a mother of two and the oldest African player in the tournament, expressed her joy in participating in this unique event. She shared, “Hosting this event in a beautiful African city is a source of happiness. I congratulate the achievements of fellow Africans like Omar Assar and Quadri Aruna, and I hope the women players excel as well!”
Africa’s top-ranked player Quadri Aruna emerged triumphant expressed his appreciation for the enthusiastic support he received from spectators during the opening day. He said, “These championships are not just about South Africa, it is about Africa too. It felt as though I was playing a match in my home country. I have always gotten amazing support from the fans, and I must thank them for it. Ultimately, I hope that my win can inspire the young players from Africa too.”
Reigning Africa Cup champion Omar Assar (EGY) showcased his resilience with a come-from-behind victory against Alberto Mino (ECU), crediting the strong home support for his remarkable comeback.
Held at the Durban International Convention Centre from 20 to 28 May, the World Championships will not only exhibit thrilling matches but also provide an exciting fan experience. Spectators and the people of Durban will have the opportunity to actively participate in table tennis themselves, with many tables spread around the venue to engage in casual matches with family and friends.
Durban is proudly welcoming the world, showcasing its warm hospitality and unwavering passion. These historic World Championships are a powerful source of inspiration for generations to come, undoubtedly sowing the seeds of excellence to nurture a new wave of champions and contribute to the remarkable growth of the sport across the continent.