In September last year at an elaborate but short ceremony hosted by the Swedish Embassy in Cairo and organised in conjunction with their Canadian counterparts, Hana Gouda was listed among the 10 most inspirational Egyptian women change-makers for her success in table tennis. Gouda is seeded No 1 in the world under 15 in table tennis, the first African to reach such giddy heights.
The event was attended by Jess Dutton, the Canadian ambassador to Egypt and Jan Thesleff, the Swedish ambassador who, in addition, is the European Union’s Gender Champion to Egypt.
Thesleff addressed Gouda as “a world champion in the world of table tennis, Hana Gouda, you are a role model to Egyptian girls and I should also say for Egyptian boys too. Egypt’s young and dynamic population is the natural source on which this great country’s future will be built. Today, we are recognising the efforts of some notable role models who are advancing the status of Egyptian women by their great work. We are encouraged to see more and more Egyptian women assuming leadership positions shaping the future of their country and impacting policy-making, business and society and Gouda at her young age is one of them.”
“During the Covid-19 lockdown, I continued to train to sustain my performance level and to remain number one,” Gouda said. “I would like to send a message to boys and girls of my age that they should focus on their goal, envision it and exert their utmost effort to achieve it.”
Last month, Gouda was competing in the second division and today is currently listed in the top spot in the under-15 girls world rankings. Gouda, 13, is set to make her senior debut in national colours. She is named alongside Farah Abdel-Aziz Yousra Helmi, Dina Meshref and Alaa Yehia in the Egyptian women’s outfit for the forthcoming ITTF Team World Championships.
Play commences in Busan, in South Korea, on Sunday 22 March and understandably Gouda, one of the most travelled junior players in the world, always accompanied by her mother, is relishing the opportunity.
“I’m very happy that I was part of the Egyptian senior team to Korea. It wasn’t really a surprise as there was a qualification tournament and I came first in the competition.
“I feel very excited and I’m looking forward to the challenge in Korea. I’m very honoured to be in the team alongside Dina Meshref and I will do my best to help team Egypt to do well.
“It means a lot to me to be one of the youngest players at the World Team Table Tennis Championships. I believe this kind of experience will help me to achieve my dream of making it to the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, France.
“My target this year is to keep being number one in cadet and to have better ranking in junior. I am also hoping that I can emerge as the champion at the World Cadet Challenge this year.”
Gouda told Al-Ahram Weekly that as a child she started playing handball at the age of three and a half, then her parents started to look for another sport to play as well as for her eldest brother who is a water polo champion. “I tried a number of sports before I was attracted to table tennis. Although I was so short at the time, even shorter than the table tennis table, I enjoyed playing so much. Gradually I became fully attracted to table tennis and forgot all about handball.”
As Gouda recounts, “I was trained for the sport at Ahly club under the supervision of the game’s superstars.” A Swedish company had its eye on Gouda at the age of seven and at 10 it sponsored her. “I was the youngest player to be sponsored at that young age but I benefitted a lot as I played in Sweden and trained a lot and this has helped me in my career. Until now I am sponsored by the same company, and Valu, an Egyptian company.”
As Gouda’s mother and companion all through the journey, she said that Hana was offered a number of professional contracts in a number of countries “but we postponed taking the decision due to Covid-19 travel restrictions”.
Gouda reached the world No 1 in the under-15 category after a journey of several championships. “I have worked and trained day and night to reach this rank. I hope to keep it up till I am able to be ranked first at the women’s level. I dream of playing in the Seniors World Championship and the 2024 Olympics in France. This is my target and I will do my best to attain it.”
As to her daily routine, Gouda says she trains three times a day six days a week and studies in her free time. “I want to be clever on all levels so my education is as important as my sport.”
Gouda’s mentor is Egypt’s Liverpool football star Mohamed Salah. “I adore Mohamed Salah and want to be famous and dedicated one day as he is. As to my table tennis mentor, she is Dina Meshref. I see her as an example that I have to follow in her footsteps to reach my target and fulfill my dream. I know that I will face strong competition all through my career especially from the Asian competitors who are the professionals of table tennis but I will do my best and try hard.”
Gouda is also training with the Chinese expert Zang Chawling who is training the Egyptian national team. “He has helped me to improve a lot and I am sure I will live up to his expectations one day.”
Gouda has an elder brother, Mohamed, 16, and a younger sister, Hams, who is seven and also plays table tennis.
Gouda is also participating in the WTT Middle East Hub taking place in Qatar this month through the Bio Bubble system which Qatar has used successfully for several other events. Since table tennis is an indoor sport, spectators will not be allowed. The local authorities are also ensuring thorough compliance to regulations and strict penalties will be put in place for anyone who breaks those regulations.
In order to ensure an even greater level of protection, the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) has introduced a rule asking for participants to test twice prior to departing their home country: the first time seven days prior to departure and a second time 72 hours prior to departure. Compliance officers from WTT, the ITTF and the LOC will be assigned to ensure all safety measures are duly followed.
“First and foremost, we are simply excited and happy to be able to have events again and after today’s call we felt even more confident that the events in Qatar will be a success and maximum effort will be made to ensure the full health and safety of the participants. It’s not an easy time also for the athletes as we have seen in other sports around the world in recent weeks, but getting international events back up and running is our number one priority,” ITTF CEO Steve Dainton said.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 4 March, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly