It’s not every day one gets a call from the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), says Genevieve Lents, 40, from Bonteheuwel.
The pioneering table tennis umpire is set to become the first African female table tennis referee to call the shots at the highest level when the Olympic Games kicks off in Tokyo, Japan, later this month.
Shawn Mendes’ catchy tune “Lost in Japan” comes to mind when chatting to Lentz about catching a flight to the land of the Rising Sun. Just like the song, she probably can’t get it off her mind. It’s the one thing that trumps graduating with a Master’s degree last week.
The highly-rated Lentz, the eldest of three siblings, all of whom are very involved with the sport, is a veteran in umpiring circles. The Tokyo Games will be her fourth tour of Olympic duty.
It’s the sort of thing one does not get used to, she says, and one that calls for celebration, albeit a virtual one in line with the times we are living in.
“I was told that an umpire only gets to attend an Olympics once because of the many umpires around the world that need to get the opportunity to officiate at such a prestigious event. So never in a million years would I have ever imagined attending my fourth Olympics,” she said.
The first Olympics she attended as a rookie was in 2008, at the Beijing Paralympics in China.
In 2006, she qualified as an international umpire and was selected for the First Youth Olympics in 2010, in Singapore as a novice umpire.
“The ultimate dream selection was being selected to travel to London for the 2012 Olympics, where I was honoured to be selected to umpire the women’s singles semi-final match,” she said.
“I thought that was my last opportunity to attend the Olympics. As an umpire I had reached the pinnacle of my umpiring career.”
The next step was to pursue a career as a referee. In 2016, South African Table Tennis Board (SATTB) nominated her to attend the national referees’ course in Sudan and the international referees course, in Egypt 2017, where she became the first African Female Table Tennis Referee.
“The biggest honour is to be selected as one of the referees at the Olympics.
In 2019, I was selected as Deputy Referee for Table Tennis at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Japan. I thought my Olympic days were over. This to date is my biggest personal achievement in sport and the highest honour for African women, Bonteheuwel; South African Table Tennis and the continent of Africa. I’ll be the first female to represent Africa as a referee at the Olympics in table tennis since the institution of Olympics is 1896 in Athens.
Regarding her duties at the Games, Lentz explained that the umpires have jurisdiction over the match within the court and the referee has jurisdiction over the whole tournament – the players, coaches and officials.
“The Referee Team is responsible for conducting the draws; checking whether the venue and the lighting is conducive for play; overseeing testing equipment; assisting the tournament manager with the playing schedule and scheduling of officials. The referee is seated outside of the playing area and is only consulted if the umpire requests it or a situation arises outside of the umpires/and or the assistant umpire’s authority. The duty of the referee is to ensure fair play in conducive playing conditions for all,” she said.
“I am thrilled at the opportunity but nervous about the fact that the Olympics will be held very differently from other Olympics because of the Covid-19 Virus. I have been vaccinated and there are very tight Covid-19 protocols that need to be followed pre-entry, during games and post-entry to Japan. We are requested to present 2 Negative Covid-19 Tests upon arrival in Japan. Without the two negative tests, we will not be allowed entry into Japan. The tests are compulsory for both players and officials and need to be done within 96 hours of departure to Japan. Rigorous testing will be conducted within that first week of the Games. We will only be allowed to go between the accommodation and the playing venue. We will not be allowed to tour Japan, nor take public transport and we need to leave Japan within 48 hours after the Games have been concluded. I pray for a successful Olympics. I have great faith in the Japanese Local Organising Committee (LOC) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) but mostly in God,” she said.
“I need to thank the South African Table Tennis Board (SATTB) for all the support throughout my career as an official for being progressive in exposing me to the world stage and actively playing a role in getting me qualified as an umpire and referee. I specifically need to thank Ms Hajera Kajee who is the vice president of Administration for SATTB and the ITTF Gender Commission who always gave me her full support and kept me motivated to represent women in South Africa and Africa by qualifying myself. As her, I hope to champion the need for gender equity in our sport. I would like to thank Cape Town Table Tennis for affording me the opportunity and platform to perform my duties as Technical Convenor but also for creating the space for me to impart my expertise as an umpire and referee and actively be involved in the development of more CTTT technical officials. To Boundary Table Tennis, I am forever grateful for being the catalyst of my Technical Career in Table Tennis. To my family, thank you for always supporting me and giving me the freedom to pursue my dreams, more specifically my mom that is a pillar of strength and Hero. Last but not least, to my Heavenly father, all honour and glory goes to Him.