The GAC Group 2013 World Tour Grand Final to be held in Dubai from Thursday to Sunday is possibly the first visible benefit of Dubai sponsoring the Chinese national table tennis team.
The tournament, sponsored by Chinese car-makers Guangzhou Automobile Company, is a $1million affair and is the richest in terms of prizemoney.
It is being held outside China for the first time thanks mainly to Dubai stepping in to sponsor the Chinese national side. The city now has the honour of hosting the top 16 men’s and women’s players from the 19 ITTF World Tour events of 2013 for the Grand Final.
Judit Farago, CEO of International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) told XPRESS that Dubai has already become a big player in table tennis in the middle-east.
“When Dubai bid to host major tournaments last year, we were really interested and it doesn’t get bigger than this event, so we were happy for the city to host it,” she said.
“We have big plans for Dubai as the World Team Cup will also be hosted by the city most likely in early 2015. It was last held here in 2010 and then the following year we had the Dubai Open as well. So things are really heating up in this part of the world,” she added.
On Wednesday, the Chinese team joined forces with leading UAE players at Safa Park to launch the next stage of community programme Ping Pong Dubai, which will see tables installed in selected Dubai parks.
And Judit believes the Chinese have finally realised the importance of not being secretive and have begun to see the benefits of marketing the game. “They have understood the importance of promoting the game now. Earlier their training methods used to be very secretive. There were also accusations against the ITTF for making rule changes to curb their dominance. But even the Chinese recognise that to make the game popular, it has to be spread out more,” she said.
Xiao Xia Li, the London Olympics gold medallist in women’s singles told XPRESS: “This kind of promotion really helps in creating interest. It is something that is happening all around the globe. Dubai is a very well developed city. It is great they are sponsoring us.”
Ma Long, the men’s World No. 1 agreed. “It’s great that we are doing this to promote the game here. The sponsorship deal between our team and Dubai is a connection between a great team and a great city. We share the same positive energy,” he said.
The ITTF executive committee meeting will be held on Thursday and the Olympic & Paralympic Commission and Development & Continental Council meeting will be on Friday. On Saturday, the first ever Gala Awards Dinner will take place, where the best players of 2013 will be felicitated. That, along with the fundraiser, being held for the second time, will be some of the highlights over the next four days.
Action, of course will be on the table, where two UAE players, Abdullah Almohaiseni, the 14-year-old prodigy and his female counterpart Majd Alblooshi will be hoping to get past their respective Round of 32 matches. It will be a tall order for both, but according to team manager Ahmad Al Bahar, the choice of Almohaiseni over four higher ranked UAE players is justified.
“He is only 14 and is already the UAE under-16 and under-18 champion. We are looking to the future and this will be a great experience for both these players,” he said.
Almohaiseni himself is unperturbed by the challenge of facing Gao Ning of Singapore. “I do feel a little pressure, but I am really excited at this opportunity and hope to win against him.” Majd, who will be taking on Russia’s Maria Bykova, is just happy to be representing the UAE. “It is a great opportunity for me and I will give my best shot,” she said.
With China providing five of the top-six seeds in the men’s section and four of the top-seven in the women’s, it is rather difficult to see a champion emerging from any of the other nations taking part. The next edition of the Grand Final is expected to be held in Thailand.