05 Mar 2024

Just over a week ago, we witnessed one of the best World Team Table Tennis Championships in our history.

While for some it may have felt like a marathon, the event never left us breathless or uncomfortable. As we crossed the finish line, it felt as though we had all completed a long race, with table tennis emerging as the ultimate winner.

Commencing with the main event – the Championships themselves, smooth operations were undeniably the key to maintaining momentum throughout the two weeks. From impressive logistical management upon arrival to seamless venue operations and hospitality, the efforts of the Local Organising Committee made us feel as though we were living in a table tennis Paradise.

During the initial five-day group stage, we wondered whether any surprises would unfold – they were few and far between. However, it was the Indian Women’s team that gave a wake-up call to China in the early rounds, proving that Sun Yingsha is not invincible. Undoubtedly, the format of the event’s early stages needs a rethink.

For some, it was all about making the quarterfinals and earning a place in the team event at the Olympic Games. Elation and sadness in the Round of 16 was to be seen as the results came in. Congratulations are in order for all the teams who secured their tickets to the Olympic Games Paris 2024!

For those vying for the title, the final Saturday will be etched in history as one of the most memorable days of team table tennis. First, the host Korea Republic pushed the mighty Chinese Men’s Team to their limits, even taking a 2-1 lead. The hall rocked with atmosphere that afternoon as the team had in their mind that they wanted to win for you – Ryu Seungmin. However, Fan Zhendong and Wang Chuqin ultimately showcased why they are considered the top two men’s players in the world today.

Then in the evening, the Women’s Final pitted China against Japan – a showdown that has become a classic in recent World Team Championships. When Hina Hayata and Miu Hirano got Japan to a 2-1 lead, Sun Yingsha rose to dominance in the fourth match, dispelling any doubts from earlier in the week. Ultimately, the fate of the match rested on the shoulders of Chen Meng and Miwa Harimoto. At just 15 years of age, Miwa gave Japan some real hope in the match, but it was the seasoned experience of the Olympic Champion that prevailed. An epic match after an epic day of table tennis and the Chinese Women again took the glory.

This led us to the final day of the Championships, marked by the thrilling – and far from classic – showdown between China and France. What an awesome match to open, well until Wang showed who really was the king, reminding the 17-year-old that there’s still more work to be done. The second match perhaps stood as the tournament’s best, with Alexis Lebrun taking a 2-1 lead and having a match point in the fourth with 10-9 against Fan Zhendong. The way the World No.1 played that point I doubt anyone else in the world would be able to emulate. A winning shot by Alexis Lebrun against anyone else was swiftly met with a powerful counter cross-court forehand. The opportunity slipped away for France, and Fan Zhendong secured a 2-0 lead for China.

Next came Ma Long against Simon Gauzy. An equally impressive match, which I am sure Simon likely consider one of his best ever. His only obstacle was Ma Long’s determination to not lose his last match at a World Championships, securing a 3-1 victory. We will only wonder if prizemoney would have made a difference. With some awkward racket testing rules delaying the celebration, the Chinese team eventually enjoyed their triumph, while the French could only acknowledge the fact that, life is life, and China had triumphed once again.

However, just months before their home Olympics, the French Men’s and Women’s teams medalled at the same event for the first time in their history. France’s men’s team made history by reaching the final for the first time in 27 years. Alongside their well-informed teammate Simon Gauzy, the Lebrun brothers are garnering fame and generating excitement beyond the table tennis world. While seeking a compelling narrative before the event, it turned out to be a storyline that even our French Communications Director would have only dreamt of prior to the event.

At the ITTF Summit – a second event held after the World Championships that left some of us scratching our heads about how to do meetings for two days after organising our biggest sport event – discussions outside the arena were relatively quiet. There were constructive discussions on finances, governance, and development, and the first-ever ITTF Awards night took shape.

Compared to recent years, the ITTF Council and AGM meetings seemed relatively calm following the successful World Championships. Debates ensued once more about rankings and which events are more important. The age-old question of “fairness” in sport was debated by those in attendance. Maintaining objectivity for all involved sometimes proved challenging, but ultimately, the ranking experts found a way to ensure all continents receive fair treatment in the rankings.

The ITTF also struggled on how to address quotas related to its main elected body, the ITTF Executive Board. While reform was generally desired, perhaps a new strategy is needed to achieve it. And whilst some may argue it wasn’t ideal for gender equity, others may contend that there’s still much work to be done to ensure greater female participation in our sport at all levels. One thing is certain – this debate is far from over.

Ultimately, what can we say but: Thank you, Korea Table Tennis Association. Thank you, Busan. And thank you, Ryu Seungmin. We all felt genuinely happy and welcome; it was an amazing feeling to have a World Championships without any pandemic complications once again. It felt as though things in the world were returning to normal, and Korea Republic delivered in style.

As for us staff – we breathe a sigh of relief that after three ITTF Summits in 15 months, the next AGM is 15 months away. We now eagerly anticipate the next ITTF World Championships Finals in Doha, Qatar, in May 2025. We can only hope the competition on the table is as fair and characterized by proper sportsmanship off the table – ensuring dynamic progress for table tennis in the future.

Yours sincerely the ITTF Group
Steve Dainton

General News