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Table tennis makes net gains in Pakistan

Xinhua | Updated: 2022-12-10 14:56

ISLAMABAD — Asad Ali, 30, has been playing table tennis for the last 10 years, and with each passing year not only does his interest in the game increase, but also the regret of not getting the opportunity to start it earlier in life.

"I represented the Pakistani army at department-level games and now I am a part of an academy teaching the game to children, and playing matches at national level," Ali says.

"After every success, I think that if the game entered earlier in my life and I had proper training, I might have been a big name in the world."

Ali first got the chance to play table tennis when he entered university at the age of 20. But as there was no coach in the university, he started learning the game by watching videos of table tennis players on the internet.

"I searched for the best table tennis players in the world on the internet, and the list was dazzling with Chinese players. I watched their games and was impressed by Zhang Jike the most. Gradually I started copying his style and started winning competitions," Ali recalls.

Although not as big a sport as cricket in Pakistan, table tennis is still one of the favorite sports at school and college level, and it is also an important part of interschool competitions.

A number of private clubs are also running in the country including in Islamabad, where children of different ages learn and play the game as part of their routine physical exercise.

Raheela Kashi Satti, a table tennis veteran, runs a table tennis club in sector G-6 of Islamabad, where she trains children who visit the club after school in the evening.

Satti says a large number of girls also play table tennis in her club, and the interest in the game in Pakistan is increasing. More students get enrolled in her club every year.

"During the pandemic when gyms and sports clubs were closed, table tennis became famous as it is an affordable and very interesting game," she says, adding that there are tournaments of different clubs in Islamabad which also increase people's interest in the game.

Some talent is wasted because of the absence of proper training, says Rafeeq Sarhadi, secretary of the Pakistan Table Tennis Federation, adding that if the players get training at the right time, their potential can be tapped.

"We were once the best in table tennis in South Asia. Many players like me were trained by Chinese coaches who used to visit Pakistan and set up camps for players," says the 55-year-old, who remained number two in the table tennis ranking in the country.

Although Pakistan is not a powerhouse in the world table tennis map, he says, the fondness for the game exists.

He hopes that there could be opportunities for some coach exchange programs between the two countries for mutual benefits.

"Pakistanis are good in cricket and hockey. Our former players give coaching to players across the world. They can also go to China to train Chinese players whereas we can invite Chinese table tennis players and other Olympians to teach us," the official adds. Talking about the expertise of the Chinese in table tennis, Ali says that sometimes the federation invites Chinese engineers working in Pakistan to play with locals, and he gets amazed by their skills. For 33-year-old Nabeel Ahmad, table tennis is more about maintaining his health than just a competitive sport. He plays the game every day to keep himself fit.

Ahmad says he wants his 3-year-old son to start playing table tennis as it is the right age for him to get introduced to the game.

"When my boy gets older, I would take him to China and get trained there just like kids from some other countries get trained in China and join their national teams after going back. By doing so not only will my son learn good table tennis skills, but he will also be a star player after coming back home," Ahmad says.

Pakistani players and officials believe table tennis should be promoted more on the school and college levels by good coaches as it will not only have health benefits for the youth, but the students will also have a deeper association with China which is world-famous for the game.

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