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Shanghai (AFP) – After Beijing, Chengdu: China will reproduce an anti-Covid bubble from Friday, on the occasion of the World Table Tennis Team Championships, the first major sporting event organized on its soil since the Winter Olympics in February.
Capital of the province of Sichuan, in the southwest of China, Chengdu was still until recently under confinement. Moreover, the scene of an earthquake at the beginning of the month, this agglomeration of more than 20 million inhabitants will welcome the Table Tennis World Championships until October 9th.
But, like the Olympic and Paralympic Games at the start of the year, the event will take place in ” closed loop “, in order to respect the strict policy of the “ zero covid still in force in China.
Inflexible, this health strategy has led to the cancellation of most of the major sporting events planned in the country since the start of the pandemic.
In 2022, China was supposed to host the Asian Games in Hangzhou, but the competition was postponed until next year. As for the Asian Football Cup, scheduled for 2023, Beijing has already given up organizing it.
In Chengdu, as of Friday, despite everything, nearly 1,300 people will have to lock themselves up for ten days in the ” Bulls of the world championships.
This tournament will constitute one of the most complex and important events in ITTF history, if not the most important “warned the director general of the International Table Tennis Federation, Steve Dainton.
« The road to Chengdu was bumpy “, a real ” rollercoaster “, also commented the Australian.
Initially scheduled for April, the competition was postponed for the first time due to an upsurge in cases of coronavirus due to the Omicron variant at the start of the year.
Then, less than a month from the event, the city of Chengdu (southwest), found itself under new confinement.
« Of course, we considered alternatives, but (…) the popularity and history of our sport in China has always given us a strong sense of hope Mr. Dainton explained.
As D-Day finally looms, ITTF President, Sweden’s Petra Sörling, assured that ” the words “could not” not express the excitement as the tournament kicks off.
Already, more than 250 competitors from around the world, including the United States, have arrived on specially chartered flights.
They will be joined in the bubble by coaches, officials and other staff, for the duration of the championships.
As such, participants will stay in specific hotels, be transported by shuttle bus to and from event sites and will be required to take a daily PCR test.
To date, the ITTF said all participants had tested negative.
Men’s doubles world champion in 2021, Swedish table tennis player Kristian Karlsson, quoted by the ITTF, showed his enthusiasm.
« It’s great that we can compete in these championships, even if it’s with tough restrictions “, did he declare.
As with the Beijing Winter Games, no tickets have gone on sale to the general public and spectators will be invited and handpicked by the organisers.
On a purely sporting level, China remain the dominant force and present themselves at home as the defending champions of the men’s and women’s events.
Present in Chengdu, Ma Long and Chen Meng for the men, Fan Zhendong-Sun Yingsha for the women, will have the mission of keeping their crown.
On the French side, eight Blues – four women and four men – are expected in the Chinese bubble.