Tennis

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ITTF's #RESTART Series Lives Up to Its Name

19 Dec, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Is it possible to restart the sports economy by rebranding it? One event owner thought so - and now has the success story to prove it.

Using the philosophy that optimism is contagious, the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) is driving awareness and engagement with its #RESTART series. Events in the series included the ITTF Women's World Cup and Men's World Cup in Weihai and the ITTF Finals in Zhengzhou. A World Table Tennis (WTT) promotional showcase was then held in Macau.

And all of those events, said ITTF chief executive Steve Dainton, went off successfully – with no infections reported.

So will #RESTART be the step that follows #LetThemPlay? It could be.

In an interview with Inside The Games, ITTF chief executive Steve Dainton described the #RESTART Series as "one of the most important things" the governing body has achieved.

Like every other sport, the ITTF had been sidelined. It resumed competitions last month, and the #RESTART series is the culmination of its work while in quarantine.

"We gave sport and the table tennis world hope that even in a crisis we can prevail," Dainton told reporters. "When the majority of Olympic sports around the world are still trying to return to international competition, table tennis did it…."All with not one single health issue during the pandemic - zero COVID-19 cases.”

And, he added, “the #RESTART Series will go down in history as one of the most important things that the ITTF and table tennis has ever achieved.”

According to the ITTF, #RESTART Series included a comprehensive health program. Plans were formulated following consultation with the World Health Organization (WHO), drawing from the experiences of other organizations, including the NBA, NHL and the UEFA Champions League, all of whom had successfully managed their return during the pandemic, adapting hygiene standards and the bubble rule to fit within the table tennis infrastructure.

#RESTART saw 116 people, including players, coaches and staff from 27 countries and regions, entering through Shanghai, Chengdu and Qingdao, and eventually arriving in Weihai and Zhengzhou.

And, the ITTF notes, “the Chinese Table Tennis Association (CTTA) ordered a total of 1,141 PCR tests for the participants, with thousands more provided to all the LOC volunteers, hotel staff and drivers. Tests were carried out every three days during the bubble, while daily tests were conducted for those in the higher risk categories. All of these numbers highlight the magnitude involved to enable the return of international table tennis.”

Additionally, mask-wearing was mandatory for everyone except athletes at the time of competition.

Liu Guoliang, CTTA President and WTT Council Chair, was effusive in her praise for all those involved.

“I think the greatest takeaway from this whole process is to see the determination and love for table tennis around the world. The ITTF Executive Committee’s decision to bring about the return of the World Cups and the ITTF Finals, and then for China to carry out the challenge was a very brave one. The pressure associated with this process was completely different from previous experience as epidemic prevention measures became crucial to the restart of tournament action. China had the courage to accept such an opportunity and challenge, showing to the world that it can successfully prevent and control the epidemic.”

#RESTART also brought spectators back to the stands at two events: the Bank of Communications 2020 ITTF Finals and at WTT Macao. Local authorities gave their approval, and local organizing committees were tasked with ensuring no interaction between the spectators and members of the bubble – a major logistical challenge.

“It was very nice to play in front of some fans,” said Simon Gauzy of France, men’s World no. 20. “Keep supporting our beloved sport.”

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