Bill Gates to help promote table tennis in US

Updated: 2012-08-01 13:04


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LONDON - The International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) plans to work with Bill Gates, the chairman of Microsoft Corporation, to promote table tennis in the United States, ITTF President Adham Sharara said.

The initiative was brought up after Gates came to London to watch the game between US teen player Ariel Hsing and Chinese Li Xiaoxia on Sunday, Sharara told Xinhua in an interview.

Sharara didn't disclose the details, but said that Gates offered to help after watching Hsing's match, in which the 16-year-old girl nearly pulled off one of biggest upsets in Olympic table tennis history, pushing No 2 seed Li to the limit before losing 4-2 in six tight sets.

"He (Gates) was surprised to see the young American girl played so well. He was very motivated. He asked me what he can do to help promote table tennis in the United States. I think we'll work with him. If the United States becomes very strong in table tennis, it's also good for China," Sharara said.

Sharara said the case is a "good example" which shows that ITTF's efforts in promoting the popularity and participation of table tennis has worked.

The ITTF has altered its rules for the London Games, allowing only two players from one nation to enter the singles events. Three players from each National Olympic Committee (NOC) were allowed to enter the singles in previous Games.

"The reason we do this is to give more NOCs to participate in our game. If we give maximum participation to the top countries, someone like Hsing will not come to the Olympic Games. They have no chance. But if we give them the chance, we can see what they can do," Sharara said.

Sharara said the change increased the pressure on strong teams, like China, Japan, South Korea and Germany. "But they understand now because they saw other NOCs participating. Countries before had no chance to play in table tennis, now they are participating in table tennis."

Other changes made to the London Games include the color of floor (from red to blue) and new table design (incorporating the Olympic rings). "As far as presentation is concerned, we try to change all the time, especially the Olympic Games. We hope to give spectators something new, exciting and cool."

Table tennis has long been dominated by Asia, especially China. Since the sport was introduced into the Olympics in 1988, China has taken 20 of 24 gold medals available. Four years ago in Beijing, it claimed six medals in the men's and women's singles.

Talking about the development of table tennis, Sharara said he believes China has the responsibility to promote the sport.

"Of course, China has done a lot. They are doing some training and inviting teams to come to China. But they must do more together with ITTF to help the other countries to improve," Sharara said.

Sharara said he hopes China can open the door for the national team program and the top coaches can accept players from outside. "The Chinese league has already opened to foreign players. It's very good for the foreign players. But I think China needs to do more. They also need to go out to Europe to the United States."

Talking about the London Games, Sharara said he was surprised by public enthusiasm in table tennis in London. "I didn't not expect so many spectators. You know there have been complaints that in some sports there are too many empty seats, and the LOCOG is trying to fill the seats. But in table tennis, we don't have this problem. We have the problem of not having enough tickets."

Talking about his favorite players, the ITTF president said in China, his favorite is Ma Long, who will compete in the men's team events in London. "I like his style, his attitude. When he plays, he is very serious. Winning or losing, he is the same."

In the world, Sharara said he likes the younger players, especially the players from France. Sharara said the French players are very talented and have very good imagination. "As a group, in the future they will challenge China," he said.

For the women, Sharara said he likes China's Ding Ning. "She is very special. She has special personality, special service, and she is a good fighter. I hope she could win the gold medal. I think she has the best chance to win."

In addition, Sharara said his favorites also includes Kasumi Ishikawa of Japan. "Maybe she is not strong enough to win the gold medal. But in the future, she will be very strong."