Syrian paddler to be trained in China: a stirring way to extend Olympic sportsmanship

By Xia Peiyao (People's Daily Online) 09:08, August 09, 2021

Hind Zaza, a Syrian table tennis player, is welcomed upon arriving in Syrian capital Damascus on Aug. 2, 2021. (Photo by Ammar Safarjalani/Xinhua)

Syrian paddler Hind Zaza will come to China for professional training, according to a report from China Central Television on August 3. The related hashtag has been viewed over 200 million times on Weibo as of Monday. The news came after her loss in a match with 39-year-old Chinese-Austrian player, Liu Jia, in the preliminary round of the women’s singles at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Behind her a war-torn country

Apart from being the only girl in team Syria and the youngest Olympian in 53 years, another reason that Zaza is in the limelight is the country she calls home - Syria. Though relatively unnoticed, the country has been sending small contingents of athletes to almost every Olympic Games since its independence in 1946. It hasn’t taken home many medals, but the sign of statehood that membership of the Olympic community confers is still of significance for such a troubled nation.

Due to endless war, the obstacles Zaza has weathered in her daily practice - constant power cuts, lack of sporting equipment, dilapidated venues, postponed funding, not to mention the COVID-19 pandemic - are beyond imagination for most people.

Despite all this, the young ping-pong player has managed to thrive in her sport. “For the last five years, I’ve been through many different experiences, especially with the war happening around the country… but I had to fight for it.”

In Feb 2020, the then 11-year-old Zaza earned herself an Olympic berth after defeating Lebanon’s Mariana Sahakian 4-3 at the West Asian Championship. One year later, Zaza, now 12, made her Olympic debut as the youngest table tennis entrant of all time. Despite her defeat, the young Zaza gave the audience an inspirational 24-minute game.

"It is just amazing for her to achieve something like this at such a young age," said her opponent Liu.

Hind Zaza plays table tennis during a training in Damascus, Syria, Aug. 5, 2021. Fascinated by their quick moves and sound rhythm, 12-year-old Hind Zaza, Syria's table tennis player and the youngest athlete at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, yearns to learn from her Chinese counterparts. (Photo by Ammar Safarjalani/Xinhua)

It doesn’t end here

Zaza’s trip to China will reportedly take place in September. She will be training with some of the best Chinese players and will also probably get to meet her idol, Chinese paddler Ding Ning. What many find touching is that ping pong, a symbol of friendship that once hinted at improved China-US relations and opened a new chapter in China’s foreign exchanges, has once again created a special bond between nations.

Over the years, ping pong has always been a popular way to carry out both official and non-official exchanges among countries. China has also made great contributions to training foreign paddlers for global events. Zaza has now become the next highly anticipated example of this. Many Chinese are expecting her to become the next Ai Fukuhara, a famous Japanese player who trained in Chinese clubs and an old friend of China.

"I hope I can reach the same level as the Chinese team has, and I’m looking forward to having the same training as the Chinese team," said Zaza.

The fact that people have renewed their attitude towards sport is also heartening. Instead of putting excessive emphasis on the medal count, people are increasingly finding gratification in common ideals. “Knowing what we’ve gone through, we now choose to lend a hand,” a Chinese netizen commented on reading the news.

While her performance in Tokyo has ended, her career in the international ping pong arena has just begun, and China will help her along the way. 

(Web editor: Xia Peiyao, Liang Jun)


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