"This is a tournament and festival for health, but also for friendship!"
The spirit of the inaugural World Table Tennis for Health Festival was beautifully encapsulated by the words of a Greek participant. With just a few weeks of table tennis practice, she played her heart out at a major championship “We were immensely proud to welcome everyone to our country and the enchanting island of Crete,” she continued, “the event has left us impressed, and our hearts are brimming with joy."
The chosen destination, Heraklion in Crete, Greece, unfolded like Paradise, providing an exquisite backdrop to kickstart the ITTF Foundation’s initiative that will redefine the impact of sports on health. The third edition of the World Parkinson's Table Tennis Championships unfolded with the primary objective of fostering camaraderie and competition. Medals were won, and the tears of joy from caregivers of even those not in the winner's circle, spoke volumes. Players from all five continents participated in the event, aligning seamlessly with the International Table Tennis Federation’s vision to make the sport more diverse and inclusive.
ITTF and ITTF Foundation President, Petra Sörling, expressed her pride in the diversity of representation, stating, “I am extremely proud to see we have representation from all the 5 continents – it is a key factor for us because we want to be a sport for all, everywhere. Table Tennis. For All. For a Better Life, here at the first World Table Tennis For Health Festival!”
As part of the legacy of the World Table Tennis Championships held in Durban, May 2023, two South African athletes affected by Parkinson’s disease were sponsored by ITTF to go to the Festival in Greece.
Recognizing the need to extend our impact on neurodegenerative diseases, the ITTF Foundation birthed the idea of the inaugural World Table Tennis for Health Congress and a pioneering World Alzheimer's Table Tennis Championships. The Hellenic Table Tennis Federation, initially entrusted with organizing the Parkinson's Championships, embraced our proposal, expanding the context of the festival for all to witness.
Konstantinos Papageorgiou, President of the Hellenic Table Tennis Federation, shared his experience, stating, “Believe me or not, the best part of the Championships and the festival is talking to players – it gives me so much pleasure. From the Congress, I had many takeaways, and it was incredibly touching to hear what this means to them.”
The Congress, supported by the Swaythling Club International (SCI), united global experts, sparking discussions on neurodegenerative diseases and inspiring collaborative efforts. Representatives from the World Health Organization also joined, emphasizing the paramount importance of physical activity, especially for countries with an aging population. Others demonstrated how regular table tennis-oriented exercises have the potential to transform lives.
On the second day of the Congress, researchers sent in their recorded presentations from countries like Australia and Japan. President Petra Sörling, emphasized the need for collaboration in her opening speech and later delivered some heartwarming closing remarks. Crucially, the day featured group discussions with players and caregivers, providing them a platform to voice their thoughts, to shape the future of the World Table Tennis for Health Festival.
Leandro Olvech, the director of the ITTF Foundation reflected this sentiment, “Giving the players an opportunity to openly discuss and ask their questions, take their comments and feedback was an amazing experience because they feel they have a say in the direction of the festival and services that we are providing to the community. We are creating a network of individuals and organisations working in this area to foster collaboration.”
The closing ceremony saw a unique raffle draw where all participants of the Parkinson’s Championships that attended the World Table Tennis For Health Congress, got an opportunity to be selected to represent the ITTF Foundation at the ITTF Rome Masters 2024.
The key takeaway from Greece is a simple yet powerful message – this is just the beginning of a transformative ‘sport for development’ initiative. Table tennis is not merely a game; it is a catalyst for change in the lives of those affected by neurodegenerative diseases. The Championships serve as a qualitative testament to the joy, camaraderie, and support our sport can bring. Brace yourselves, as the World Table Tennis for Health Festival will return next year in France, promising to be an even more significant beacon of inspiration for all stakeholders involved.
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Below are some pictures from the festival and we'll be sharing more on our Social Media profiles in the days to come.