This Rio Olympics, Germany won its first medal in women’s table tennis, a silver, after the doubles team lost to powerhouse China 3-0.
The record setters for Germany were Han Ying and Petrissa Solja.
Solja was born in Kandel, Germany, and was coached by her father, a remarkable story in a sport dominated by Asians. The 33-year-old Han was born in Liaoning, China, and played for her motherland till 2010, the year she switched allegiance to Germany. She is now an Olympic silver medallist. The third member of the team is Xiaona Shan, 33, also from Liaoning.
According to the New York Times, of the 172 table tennis players who competed in Rio, 44 were born in China. Singapore, Australia, United States and Canada all have Chinese-born players in their table tennis teams. Then there was the 54-year-old Ni Xialian, competing in her third Olympics for Luxembourg. She moved to the wealthy European nation in 1991.
In the quest to break the Chinese monopoly, nations are importing players who otherwise wouldn’t have made it to China’s team.
The phenomenon is not restricted to table tennis, nor to the Summer Olympics. The Winter Games in Sochi saw more ‘rented internationals’, the most infamous being British singer-violinist Vanessa Mae, who turned up as a skier for Thailand.
In Rio, Qatar, which has long been accused of ‘buying’ talent in athletics and football, had earmarked a medal in men’s handball. To help achieve the goal, it took in five players from the Balkans, two from Syria, one from Cuba, Spain and France . Qatar failed though, losing to Germany in the quarterfinals. But Qatar will be back in the 2020 Olympics with renewed resolve. After all, despite the Rio setback, imported talent has helped the handball team to be a force to reckon with on the world stage, winning silver at the World Championships in 2015.
Qatar’s policy of importing talent will be in the limelight in 2022 too, the year it hosts the Fifa World Cup. The tiny Gulf nation, which struggled to fill its stadium despite a strong football league, has a state-of-the-art football academy called Aspire. The Doha-based academy has scouted for talent across the world, especially Africa, to train them under reputed coaches, and to build a squad that can make its presence felt in 2022. It is one of the reasons why Qatar-based Al Sadd football club has bought Barcelona legend Xavi as a player-mentor. Many of these young players will be in action in India next year at the Fifa under-17 World Cup, provided they qualify.
The poignant reminder, however, is despite the imports, Qatar’s medal haul in Rio was worse than India’s, a single silver won by high jumper Mutaz Barshim. Barshim, however, was born and brought up in Qatar.
But as seen in table tennis, importing talent has brought success to many nations. Also, if not for imports, Qatar would not have qualified for many of the disciplines it competed in.