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World No 7 Doo Hoi-kem will lead the Hong Kong women’s team at the team World Championships in Chengdu this month. Photo: AP

Chengdu in lockdown, but Hong Kong table tennis stars will still visit for team worlds

  • Hong Kong will send squad of 10 to the tournament, which has not been held since 2018 because of pandemic
  • The Chengdu event will take place under a ‘closed loop’ system

Hong Kong still plans to go ahead with taking part in the table tennis team World Championships in Chengdu later this month despite the lockdown of the Chinese city because of a Covid-19 outbreak.

The city’s table tennis head coach Chan Kong-wah said Hong Kong would send a strong 10-member contingent of five men and five women to the biennial tournament, set to feature the world’s top 32 men’s and women’s teams.

“China staged the Winter Olympics early this year and we also went to the Tokyo Olympic last summer,” the coach said. “Of course there are worries over travelling and playing tournaments these days under the pandemic and we also know the situation in Chengdu.

An empty road in Chengdu, China, which has been in lockdown. Photo: EPA-EFE

“But we think the world governing body and the Chinese authorities would do their best to protect the players and officials and we also have confidence in their safety measures. Unless there is any change from the tournament, we will continue to send the teams.”

The 2022 team worlds was first scheduled for April but was postponed until September 30 to October 9 because of the pandemic. However, Chengdu has been under lockdown since September 1, becoming the largest Chinese metropolis to come to a standstill since Shanghai’s two-month closure in the spring.

The International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) had earlier said a “closed loop” system, inspired by the one used during the Beijing Winter Olympics, would be in place for the Chengdu tournament, which is set to welcome more than 1,000 participants. Special flights have been chartered, and participants will be able to enter and leave Chengdu with no quarantine.

People line up for Covid-19 testing in Chengdu. Photo: EPA-EFE

But Covid-19 has hampered Hong Kong’s preparation for the tournament, which has not been held since 2018, in Halmstad, Sweden. The 2020 worlds were supposed to take place in Busan in South Korea, but the event was postponed multiple times before being cancelled altogether because of the pandemic.

The coach said they had plans to go to mainland China for training camps to prepare for the worlds but could not find any suitable city to receive them under present measures. They have remained at the Hong Kong Sports Institute for training, but recent pandemic developments closer to home have worried the coach, too.

“We are also concerned about the situation in Hong Kong,” he said. “In fact, some of the coaching staff have been infected and cannot come back to work. We now plan to stage a 10-day closed camp at the Sports Institute for all the team members before we leave for the worlds, to protect them from the virus.”

Wong Chun-ting is still a key player for the men’s team. Photo: Xinhua

World No 7 Doo Hoi-kem will spearhead the women’s team, which also includes Doo’s Olympic teammates Lee Ho-ching and Minnie Soo Wai-yam, along with Zhu Chengzhu and youngster Ng Wing-lam.

Hong Kong’s women are currently third in the team world rankings and they will be eager to repeat their success at the 2014 Tokyo and 2018 tournaments whey they won bronze medals. Hong Kong’s best result was a silver in 2004, in Doha, and 2006, in Bremen.

In the men’s event, Tokyo Olympian Ho Kwan-kit was injured and will not be part of a squad led by Wong Chun-ting, Lam Siu-hang and Ng Pak-nam, all 2020 Tokyo Games representatives. The two other members are the up-and-coming Li Hon-ming and Yiu Kwan-to. Hong Kong are currently 12th in the men’s rankings.