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Omar Assar: Egypt Can Become the Next Table Tennis Powerhouse

The world number 22, who became just the second African to reach the World Championships quarter-finals earlier this year, explains why Egypt will become a nation to watch out for as table tennis surges in popularity in the country.

Africa and the Arab world, led by Egypt, will be the next hotbed of table tennis. A bold statement, but one Omar Assar believes in.

The men’s world number 22 has seen first-hand what he believes is an upcoming generation of incredibly promising youngsters in his country, ready to follow in his footsteps.

The 32-year-old Egyptian became just the second African man, after his good friend Quadri Aruna of Nigeria, to reach the World Championships quarter-finals earlier this year. Both men are also the only Africans to have reached the last eight at the Olympic Games.

And Assar is convinced it is a question of when, not if, a countryman or countrywoman becomes the first African or Arab player to finish on the podium at a major event. His immediate hope is for this to happen as early as 2026, at the Dakar Summer Youth Olympic Games – the first Youth Olympic Games to be held in Africa.

“There are talented players,” he told Olympics.com recently. “I can see a big chance for us to be in the podium in this competition, and I hope one day we also can be in the Olympic podium as Egyptians and Arab players.

“There are players out there in Egypt who are capable of competing at an international and Olympic level, and they are dreaming about the first Olympic table tennis medal in Africa and in the Arab world.”

Egypt’s hurdles and prospects in table tennis

That’s not to say the road will be easy. Assar understands this better than most, having faced the same issues himself even as he and Quadri became the two best African players the world has seen.

“In Egypt, we have so many talented boys and girls, even starting from those who are eight and nine years old. But also realistically speaking, these players, they have massive challenges,” Assar cautioned. “(They can’t) afford to have proper training, proper materials and to travel, to support themselves in Egypt and Africa. To be honest, these players can really do very well. They could also inspire other players too, but they need the help.

“We have many good players. The challenge would be how could they perform as good as they could more often? This is the thing, the challenge or the question is that sometimes as Arab players and African players, we miss sometimes the consistency of performing.”

While Assar, the African number two behind Aruna, says he is doing his part to help by imparting his knowledge and providing support, he thinks Egypt would benefit from holding more events in the sport, both at a local and international level.

“We are trying also to discuss high-level projects to help as (many) talented young players as possible to generate players like Dina Meshref,” he told Olympics.com. “For the young, I can see a big challenge and I would really like to invite the successful people in our country to help the young, because they have a chance to make even more success than us.”

But there are promising signs. The young Egyptian talent Hana Goda has already caught attention for being the youngest player to win the ITTF-Africa Cup, doing so in 2022 aged just 14 years 7 months old.

“Hana is lovely. We all like her and her energy and I think she is lucky because she is surrounded by very nice teammates who are helping her,” Assar affirmed of his young teammate. “But it’s gonna be more and more challenges all the way up to the seniors level. She’s now doing very well in youth, but I’m very excited also to see how she would raise (her game) during the next years and transfer from youth to seniors because it is two different sports.”

However, Assar also has a plea: for other Egyptian talents to receive similar coverage as Goda has received.

“We have got also many other talents all over Egypt. And with this good competition, local competition, it generates more champions like Hana and I’m sure that there are much more players like her all over Egypt.”

Omar Assar: Leading from the front in Egypt’s table tennis charge

As the most high-profile face of Egyptian table tennis currently, Assar is leading by example as he and his teammates, including Meshref and Goda, raise the sport’s profile in the country.

While Assar agreed football is the most popular sport, driven by the success of Egypt’s Mohamed Salah in the Premier League (Assar admitted to being a Liverpool fan, the club Salah plays for), he shared that he has noticed a certain change every time he returns home from a tournament.

“This feeling (I get) when I land in Cairo airport and I meet normal people and they say ‘Hi Omar, congratulations for your last win, and we are expecting from you more’, this cheers me up so much. It makes me wake up next morning and wants to practice, I don’t know, four or five hours with so much enthusiasm. I really enjoy it.

“I now can go in the street and many people could recognise that I’m related to table tennis. I like so much when people say, ‘oh, he’s the table tennis guy’, so much more than when they say ‘here is Omar’.”

You might be forgiven for thinking that Assar, who despite taken time out on his birthday – his only day off while playing a league competition in India – to speak to Olympics.com maintains a cheerful disposition throughout the interview, would be happy with his efforts at the World Championships earlier this year in Durban.

But you would be wrong. Despite being softly spoken in our interview, his fiery passion for table tennis – and for being an African and Arab role model – comes across strong.

“My goal is to develop table tennis in the country and also in the region, in Arabic region and also in Africa, and from there, we could generate more champions.

“(At the World Championships) we made this mistake (where) we were a little bit satisfied of our results already in the tournament. It was not what I dream about, to be a representative for the whole beautiful continent of Africa, be a representative for Egypt.

“The African people and Egyptian people, they have more dreams and more faith in us than quarter-final, so we should stretch more our dreams. I could see that my team were already (thinking) ‘okay, we are in quarter-final, let’s keep it as it is’, but it’s not what I dream about. I dream about medals more than good performances.”

One day before he retires, Assar hopes, leagues in the Arab world will improve and attract the best players, just as is the case in other sports.

“In the next years, I would love to play more in my region, in the Arabic region. In Egypt, (in) Saudi Arabia. And the reason for that is that I want to increase the awareness and to improve the sport in this region. I have been so lucky to play in Bundesliga, French League, the Swedish League, and to see legends in the sport. I was lucky to meet them and now my mission is to transfer the knowledge to the local leagues as well.

“So I see myself in the next years playing in Egypt and in Saudi Arabia, and to try to compete in WTT events and World Championships and especially the Olympic Games in Paris 2024inshallah. I can see big potential for us.”

Source : Olympic