Trying to make the right serve
By N Jagannath Das | Published: 11th December 2012 09:50 AM |
Egypt has been in the midst of a huge political crisis ever since the revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak last year. Major cities like Cairo and Alexandria have turned into battlegrounds due to the crackdown on civilians by the political powers. Far away from their country, the Egyptian junior table tennis team, oblivious of the political turmoil in their country, is participating in the Volkswagen 10th World Junior Table Tennis Championship as winners of the African continent at the SAAP Indoor Stadium, Gachibowli, here.
Coach Helmy Ashraf, who is in charge of the girls team, explained that the violence is restricted only to Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
“Life, to a certain extent, is normal. Disturbances occur mostly at the Tahrir Square. Most of the sports and other activities are not affected, particularly the indoor games. We had, in fact, invited two Chinese coaches for the boys and girls teams to a conduct a training camp for the world meet,” he said.
But Ashraf’s brother-in-law Alaa Mesheref, who was elected as president of the Egypt Table Tennis Federation a month ago, said that the long struggle led to collapse of the economy and disruption in sports activities. “Thanks to the political disturbances most of the sports activities too have been derailed and tournaments had to be postponed,” Mesheref said and added that most of the players were depending on practice sessions or training camps before any major international tournaments.
Particularly soccer, the most popular game, according to Mesheref, is very badly affected. “All major tournaments and league soccer matches have been cancelled for fear of violence. Soccer attracts big crowds and sponsors. Because of the collapse in the economy, sponsors have stopped promoting the game in a big way. The other sports associations are just surviving,” he said.
Mesheref, however added that table tennis was affected less. “We are feeling the financial pinch in the absence of support from sponsors and the government,” he added.
Interestingly, not just Ashraf and Mesheref, other members of the families are also equally involved with the game. Triple Olympian Ashraf’s wife Nihal Mesheref, who is also Alaa Mesheref’s sister is a former national champion. Alaa Mesheref’s daughter Dina Meshref is seeded 12th in the girls singles event here, while Yousra Helmy, daughter of Helmy Ashraf is second top player in the country. “We all love table tennis. Both Dina and Yousra started their career at the age of seven years and have since won numerous tournaments in our country,” said Ashraf, adding that table tennis is one of the popular games in the country. “We have a good number of clubs and we have always dominated the African championship,’’ he concluded.
Egypt is, unlike other Islamic countries, liberal towards girls taking part in sports. “We do not have any dress code. But some of them wear a head scarf (hijab), which is only their personal choice,” said Ashraf.