Interview: Chinese table tennis chief Liu hopes sport reaches more people

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By sportswriters Su Bin, Zhang Han and Liu Jinhui

XINXIANG, China, May 7 (Xinhua) — With dazzling lights and live music, the ongoing Chinese table tennis Olympic simulation competition feels like a party. What makes that even more true is the presence of fans at the venue.

Outside the venue, people are standing and watching a big screen to follow the live televised games.

It has moved the Chinese Table Tennis Association (CTTA) President Liu Guoliang and gone beyond his expectation.

“Sports should carry multi-faceted functions,” table tennis legend Liu, also the World Table Tennis (WTT) Council Chair, told Xinhua in an exclusive interview.

DIGGING OUT WEAKNESSES

The Olympic simulation competition held in the central Chinese city of Xinxiang serves as a test for potential Olympic participants, also offering qualifications for other tournaments, including the WTT Grand Smashes, the World Championships in Houston, and the China Table Tennis Super League.

It marks the first time that the CTTA has incorporated the WTT Grand Smashes and World Championships spots in the competition.

36 men’s and 36 women’s players play in singles matches at the five-day tournament, while the mixed doubles event features a total of 16 pairs.

The CTTA selected participants using a wide range of parameters, including players qualifying for the singles final stage of China’s 14th National Games, men’s and women’s singles finalists at the 2020 National Junior Championships (U18 and U15 categories), and those qualifying through the trials.

“If we aim to make our Olympic participants strong, we need to mount as much pressure as possible,” Liu noted.

His target somewhat became a reality, as 16-year-old national junior champion Lin Shidong stunned world No. 2 Xu Xin before reaching the quarterfinals.

This reminded Liu of a duel between Xu and sensational Japanese teenager Tomokazu Harimoto.

“We want to provide a platform for these youngsters to showcase themselves,” he said.

With less than 80 days ahead of the Tokyo Olympic Games, Liu hoped the potential Olympic participants would endure the biggest challenge and find out their own weaknesses.

“All players set high standards for themselves. I hope to see they are challenged, but also they can overcome the challenges and show their comprehensive strength during the process,” Liu commented.

MULTI FUNCTIONS OF SPORTS

Personally witnessing the electric atmosphere in his hometown, Liu deemed the tournament as a holiday both for fans and the city. A return of fans has undoubtedly boosted players’ morale.

“It’s not easy to stage competitions during the pandemic era. Players cherish the opportunity of competing a lot, but all sports matches require fans to foster a good atmosphere.

“Functions of sports should be multi-faceted. Players win glories for their countries at the Olympic Games, and people live a healthy lifestyle through sports,” said Liu.

LOVE AND RESPONSIBILITY

“Table tennis sits at the heart of Chinese sporting culture, and it should be a global sport at the same time,” Liu said.

In a year marking the 50th anniversary of “Ping-Pong Diplomacy” between China and the United States, Liu thinks that “diplomacy” should be extended, not just between the two nations, but also between China and the rest of the world.

Since taking up a leading position inside the groundbreaking organization of the WTT, Liu put innovation at the heart of his attempts to push table tennis going forward.

“It purely comes from my love for this sport and responsibility,” he explained.

From the World Championships trials starting in 2006 to the “Marvelous 12” event, China is always pioneering to make the sport available to a wide range of people.

For Liu, sports know no bounds. Stronger member associations should help others in integrating the world’s table tennis community.

“The CTTA is capable of doing it, and shoulders the responsibility for it.”

“Innovation is everywhere,” said Liu. “Table tennis calls for development to cater to requirements from different groups.” Enditem

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