Channel NewsAsia

Table Tennis: Give other countries a chance, ITTF chairman tells China

Long-term table tennis boss Adham Sharara urged dominant China to help challengers make the sport more competitive as he was elected to a newly created role as the sport's chairman Wednesday.

TOKYO: Long-term table tennis boss Adham Sharara urged dominant China to help challengers make the sport more competitive as he was elected to a newly created role as the sport's chairman Wednesday.

Sharara, voted chairman after 15 years as president of the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), called for "five or six years" of Chinese goodwill to boost the sport's appeal.

"As president I have to be completely neutral," the 61-year-old said in an interview at the world team championships in Tokyo, where the vote was held at an AGM.

"I have to respect the tremendous effort the Chinese have made to be as strong as they are.

"But they themselves know that if it continues this way the sport will be very much oriented as a Chinese or Asian sport."

The Cairo-born Canadian last year won a bitter power struggle with Italy's Stefano Bosi to retain control of the ITTF, which he hopes can put table tennis among the world's top five sports.

But Sharara, who will now be able to take up positions in bodies such as the International Olympic Committee (IOC), is set to be replaced by his deputy, Germany's Thomas Weikert, as ITTF president.

The new chairman's position is "independent and non-political", according to the ITTF, and does not hold any voting or decision-making power. The chairman will chair the ITTF AGM every year.

"Inside (table tennis) a lot of people have been pushing me to become an IOC member for six or seven years," said Sharara.

"But I feel if I'm the president of the ITTF I have to dedicate all my time to that."

Sharara, who will begin his new role in September, is desperate to raise the competitiveness of European countries who have been eclipsed by China's dominance over the past 20 years.

"We'd like China to open up more and allow the top teams to train with them and learn from their coaches for a period, maybe five or six years," he said.

"To create the kind of rivalry we used to have between Sweden and China, for example. It's easier to try and coordinate this if I'm not the decision-making president."

Sharara, who has overseen a switch in the scoring system to 11 points, the introduction of a bigger ball and outlawed bats juiced with 'speed glue' in an attempt to make table tennis more watchable, once warned the sport would get "boring" if China continued to pulverise opponents.

"During the Sochi Olympics I got bored watching the long-track speed skating," he said. "You knew who was going to win: Holland, Holland, Holland. Table tennis spectators may also think it's predictable and not watch it."

Sharara believes Chinese players need to achieve the appeal of Yao Ming or Li Na, who are celebrities in the world's most populous nation, to be marketable across the world.

"The Chinese need to become global stars," he said. "Then it doesn't matter that they're Chinese -- you watch it for the joy of watching the game.

"It's happened in basketball and tennis, so why not table tennis as well?"

China, who have won the last five men's individual world titles, the last 10 women's world titles and the last six men's world team titles, have reluctantly accepted the need for change, according to Sharara.

"At the (2012) London Olympics we limited it to two entries per country in the singles," he said.

"It was very successful. A German (Dimitrij Ovtcharov) got the bronze medal so table tennis on German TV took off. The Chinese were against it at first but they understood and saw the effect.

"Now we're trying to replicate the same thing at the world championships in individual events. At the moment they can get up to seven. We want to reduce it to a more reasonable number.

And Sharara insisted Chinese charity need only be short-term.

"We just need to create more rivalry," he said. "Five or six years down the line, China can can close the door, say 'we've given enough, and now we want to beat the hell out of you again'."

Tweet Photos, Videos and Update on this Story to  #cna