Individual clout and national pride are set to be tested to the limit from September 10 through 17 as Africa’s best players descend on Tunis, the Tunisian capital, to slug it out for places in the Paris 2024 Olympic Games and the World Championships.
It is the second major, senior continental tournament this year after the African Cup held in Nairobi, Kenya and the stakes are higher as the winners in the team and mixed doubles events will automatically pick tickets to the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. The top four countries in the team event will also secure continental places at the 2024 World Team Championships taking place in Busan, South Korea.
While heavyweights like Egypt and Nigeria are perennial bookers’ favourites, they face daunting competition from the likes of Tunisia, Algeria, Madagascar and a host of others.
Expectations are high as President, African Table Tennis Federation (ATTF), Khaled El-Salhy, acknowledged: “It is a qualification tournament for both the 2024 WTTC and the 2024 Paris Olympic Games. We have new challengers from the African Championship due to the emergence of new top players who showed their quality at the 2023 ITTF-Africa Cup in Kenya and African Youth Championships in Morocco,” El-Salhy stated.
“Players from Madagascar and Algeria are not going to be pushovers in Tunisia as they are professional players plying their trade in France. They decided to play for their native countries for the first time in African events this year with superb results. I see that there will be a big challenge for the traditional top teams like Egypt, Nigeria and Tunisia for the qualification events and dominating the podium in Tunis,” the ATTF boss added.
Having hosted Africa and the world in a series of table tennis tournaments in the last few years, Tunisia is now established as a major table tennis hub, hence the country promises another exciting experience for the participating players and teams at the Rades Sports Complex venue of the qualifiers.
In this regard, President, Tunisia Table Tennis Federation (TTTF) Lotfi Guerfel, has assured that the country would deliver yet another epoch-making continental tournament.
Guerfel said: “We are so grateful to the ITTF, WTT and IOC for their confidence in our association and country. It is a new opportunity for our players to compete and do their best to reserve a place in the next Olympic Games.”
Like El-Salhy, Guefel expects a tough competition in Tunis. “Most African teams are working hard and well prepared for this competition and therefore it will be hard to have clear expectations in terms of results. The one thing we are sure of is that the competition will be intense and difficult for everyone,” he said.
Tunisia hosted the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Qualifiers and Guerfel believes staging the 2024 Paris Olympic Games qualifiers is another opportunity for the country to showcase their ability in hosting top-class events and provide their players the prospects of qualifying for Paris.
“Tunisia has gained so much, and at different levels, through hosting several tournaments in the last three years. Among the direct benefits are opportunities it offered to Tunisian players as it was possible for them to compete with many players that are very well ranked internationally,” Guerfel observed.
He continued: “We can see the impact of such competitions on the technical level of our international players and therefore better results at the last African and Arab championships. We now have more sponsors willing to be partners of our Federation due to the interesting and high visibility offered them locally and internationally. Also, the wonderful experience in hosting international and important events has brought respect and recognition internally and at international level to the Federation.
“Hosting many important table tennis events in our country has an amazing impact on the fortunes of our favourite sport in Tunisia and all the regions. Table tennis is becoming more and more popular. This is clearly perceived by the creation of many new table tennis clubs and the increase in number of active players in most clubs.”
On the readiness of Tunisia for the 2023 African Championships, Guerfel said: “We believe that our participation in most previous tournaments is the best we can do to prepare our players for the 2023 African Championships.”