Cool approach to firing up some new excitement

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China Daily, March 5, 2019
Adjust font size:
Liu Guoliang (center), chairman of the Chinese Table Tennis Association, congratulates men's winner Fan Zhendong (right) and women's winner Chen Meng during the award ceremony of The Marvellous 12 tournament in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, on Sunday. [Photo/Xinhua]

Although China has dominated table tennis for decades and produced generations of world and Olympic champions, the sport is struggling to capture the imagination of today's young people-some of whom refer to it as "the old people's favorite".

But Liu Guoliang, newly elected chairman of the Chinese Table Tennis Association, has vowed to make the sport "younger and cooler" in order to attract new fans.

The latest effort was The Marvellous 12 in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, last week. Presented by the CTTA and Tencent Sports, the tournament rewarded men's winner Fan Zhendong and women's winner Chen Meng each with one million yuan ($149,000) in prize money.

Attracting 12 aces from Team China's men's squad and another dozen from the women's side, the tournament featured a dazzling opening ceremony that saw the 24 athletes dressed as astronauts to save the planet.

Fans screamed with delight when the astronauts doffed their helmets to reveal their true identities-including men's world No 1 Fan, No 2 Xu Xin and women's Olympic gold medalist Ding Ning.

The four-day tournament generated 800 million related topics on Chinese social media.

The response earned praise from International Table Tennis Federation president Thomas Weikert, who also participated in the festivities.

Weikert said the ITTF was very proud to see China host such an event, and that the tournament could serve as a template for other countries to follow.

"The Marvellous 12 can attract the attention of more young people and encourage them to actually play the sport," said Lin Gaoyuan, the men's world No 3. "Table tennis has been a beloved national sport in China. I'm confident in the future development of the sport."

Apart from the one million yuan for the winners and half a million yuan for the second-place finishers, The Marvellous 12 paid appearance fees to all 24 athletes, swelling the payout to five million yuan ($750,000).

CTTA boss Liu also expressed his appreciation to Tencent Sports for helping make The Marvellous 12 a success.

"The Marvellous 12 has high prize money, which can be considered the first step of pushing the marketization of Chinese table tennis," said Liu.

"As for the sport's market development, both ITTF president Weikert and I believe there should be more creative methods.

"We have upgraded the event in all aspects over the past two years, including the prize money. We added fashion, entertainment and market-oriented elements, but it's still a top-level tournament with fierce competition."

The best players from the Shenzhen event will have a chance to join Team China's roster for next month's world championships in Budapest, Hungary.

"It's a task for Liu and me to combine the strengths of the CTTA and the ITTF, working together to develop the commercial value of the sport," said Weikert.

Ever since last December, when 43-year-old legendary player and coach Liu became the CTTA chairman, the former Grand Slam winner has pushed to fully professionalize table tennis in China.

"The business value of table tennis in China is not high enough and we are still in a very early stage," said Liu. "Now investors could hardly profit, which means we haven't sufficiently developed the market potential.

"The CTTA must take the responsibility of pushing the professionalization reform. While we keep the competitiveness, we have to prolong the lifespan of our sport and save more talent in preparing for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics."

Meanwhile, Weikert does not subscribe to the theory that China's decades-long domination of table tennis is the main reason for the sport's decline in popularity.

"I have heard that theory very often, but it is not my opinion," said Weikert. "Of course, it might not be the most interesting final at the world championships to always see China play against China.

"It's our job to develop the game, and not to limit the participation of Chinese players as they did in the past.

"We have to create events. We have to transfer China's knowledge to the world."

Follow on Twitter and Facebook to join the conversation.
ChinaNews App Download
Print E-mail Bookmark and Share

Go to Forum >>0 Comment(s)

No comments.

Add your comments...

  • User Name Required
  • Your Comment
  • Enter the words you see:   
    Racist, abusive and off-topic comments may be removed by the moderator.
Send your storiesGet more from