Here We Go Again

harimoto_14_02_15_LargeShame on you Mr Blogger for not posting anything for some months now. New Life -New Job – New horizon .. Many thing to write about if only the energy and drive of sharing thoughts and ideas was there.  Heal quickly my Sweet soul  for new challenges ahead !  Let the words come  and the passion live .

But tonight . In the middle of Sweden , from the Örebro Safirs International TT meet , comes an outcry of admiration . I have just seen the eleven year old phenom Tomokazu HARIMOTO from Japan almost pulverize three top one hundred players in the world on his route to a second place finish in the challenging Mens singles event  . Among the beaten you will find  established names like Omar ASSAR from Egypt and Jens LUNDQVIST from Sweden.

Standing ovations worthy he was – the little “Teddy bear” from Japan.  

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The Nature of the Beast

USATTOne journey to the Land of the Free. Four working days visiting clubs, talking to stakeholders in the red hot Bay Area Table Tennis market, followed by five days at the US National championships in Las Vegas – a gathering of table tennis nuts like no other.

Mission? You may ask.

For a starter to understand more of the dynamics driving the growth of our  sport in one of the most challenging , intriguing markets in the world ;  United States of America .

 Extended mission; connect ideas with reality for professional initiatives down the road. The drummer should keep drumming also in the after ITTF life.

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The dominant part of this text is written above the clouds, crossing an ocean that for so many years separated land of origin and home. Must have travelled North America to Europe and back  at least one hundred times during my sixteen years of ITTF service with Ottawa, Canada at the time being my home city.   Somehow my ITTF career had to end here – in the sky thinking about North American Table Tennis – its development – or lack thereof? Many of the programmes that I did have the fortune to implement when working for the ITTF  , all under the Global Junior Programme umbrella , did come with the dynamics – the pathways to excellence clearly outlined for young talents from USA and Canada. 

Is there really a verdict to be had at this point?   – So let’s bring it on. In my eyes the ITTF Global Junior Programme brought life to table tennis in the North American market. It provided young and upcoming talents and their supporters with clear cut goals and the much needed international measuring stick. Sure – you would like to have a deeper cut of domestic activities following along, supporting players and coaches – but implementation of even the best initiative is a challenge in North America –let alone to run the national team programme on a shoestring budget.

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So there I was attending my second US National Championships – listening to the Star Spangled Banner – feeling proud when the USA Junior Girls team was recognized for their bronze medal achievement some three weeks ago at the World Juniors. Strange how deep my passion runs for junior development – and NA specifically. Perhaps it all relates to the life-long desire to change the world of Table Tennis. After all, few people working for the ITTF takes the time to engage in those kind imaginaries of the future. Something I always liked to do.

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Spent  a few days here in Las Vegas back in 2012 as well – and just like then – the same goes for now; what a fantastic event!!!  The Nationals has the tendency to draw in ALL kind of personalities, to one event under the same roof.  You will find unique styles -The Power of Passion – Good Takes on the World of Table Tennis – Lots of specific nut like knowledge… You can get it all here if arriving with an open mindset of course.   This is the everyman/women show as close to 800 players hit the concrete in the gigantic Vegas convention center for five long days each December.  Eighty-four official courts – Big playing small – old versus young – para-athletes going head to head with promising juniors – good matches – poor matches – you name it , its all here  – and even a little bit more, especially if you count the many side discussions that often have a tendency to consume considerable time without you knowing it. 

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WCCTTAThe red floor is rolled out for the best players  who goes neck to neck mainly on the two centre-court tables. This time the blogger was talking and walking in Vegas for the complete duration of the 2014 National Championships.   Interesting times for sure. This is a bubble – a unique style of sport family gathering very much framed off from the outside world.

You could argue of course that the USATT could absorb to old cliché that “What happens in Vegas – stays in Vegas”, at least when it comes to the outcome of specific events.  To have good old Jimmy BUTLER squeaking out the national men’s singles title for the fourth time – his last title came twenty one years ago!!,  is one of those things that doesn’t fit into the future frenzy discussion dominating the USA TT talks right now?  But then again – the private coaching machine spitting out talents all over the country is not exactly fine-tuned on tactical sense and mental awareness. Jimmy fought the fight – brought the game down to his level and was brave / confident enough to take down his twenty five year?  younger opponent, fifteen year old Kunal CHODRI in the final despite trailing 1-5 at the seventh game turn.

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Lily ZHANG finally won the women’s singles title. Clearly not in her prime form the ICC , Milpitas poster girl , fresh from Youth Olympic Games success , fended off the twelve year old super-talent Crystal Wang from Maryland in a somehow exciting final  played over six games .  Good to see also that the US Women’s National team well is not dried up. Instead it is flowing steadily with plenty of young talents filling in when collage girls like Ariel HSING  – Erica WU and others decides to downgrade their international TT careers quiet dramatically due to the academic pressure. That’s all good I guess – but the fact is that school easily can be combined with training and competition – but only in a strict school – training only setting. Not too much room for other things in life. This is the cruel reality that so many female table tennis players not only in North America, but also world-wide struggles with. Can you blame them though? Professional opportunities are still slim and the competition out there from the many Asian players harder than a rock.     .

Back to that flowing well.  Besides Crystal WANG – clearly on of the best twelve year olds in the world we have Prachi JHA showing great improvement, almost by the minute. It is a pretty safe bet that Prachi will be a factor, also at international level, as soon as she gets a better understanding of the tactical aspects of the game itself. The motivational much needed hunger factor is World class!

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So – Did we find any answers – solved the riddle of USA Table Tennis – its future direction and general trends in Las Vegas?  . Probably not right off the bat – but shame us if we do not keep digging deeper with clear ambition and purpose. The backyard will not change unless the gardener goes to work. The new USATT CEO Gordon Kaye, having spent only six weeks on the job, will need all the support the world of Table Tennis can muster in order to improve the situation and to continue to grow the sport.

As the good reader of this blog may know – the ever truth-seeking Eleven Point Blog is not giving up – far from. So here they come my Christmas presents to the USA TT community   – the findings from the 2014 US Nationals if you may say so – nicely packaged with the best Christmas present wrapping made in Sweden I could find.

A sizeable doze of PATIENCE – SUPPORT and CONFIDENCE to the new USATT CEO Gordon KAYE.

What an intriguing job he has. But having skated as a Hockey pro in Hungary and Sweden you would imagine that Gordon can both take a hit and give one back which most certainly is a quality he may need to steer the USATT ship out of the isolated harbour and on to the open sea.

One good talk show to Tim Boggan and his USATT Hall of Fame friends.

Attended the USATT Hall of Fame dinner as an invitee of Paddle Palace. It was not the biggest gathering – but what an amazing chance to learn from history it became  . The story on screen for the introduction of Dick BUTLER – the father of Jimmy and Scott Butler was an excellent piece of USATT history.  Listening to Tim Boggans introduction style of stories was another form of pleasurable entertainment.  “I am writing one book a year on the history of Table Tennis in the USA the eighty-four year old Tim Boggan said when I met him in the venue the morning after. I guess you can question the real value of the work itself – but I often catch myself covering many international happenings connected to our players as well – that makes it kind of interesting Tim explained.

Here is a link showing some of the amazing work by Tim; Check out the players profiles!

http://www.teamusa.org/USA-Table-Tennis/USATT/Hall-of-Fame/Profiles

COURAGE to be DIFFERENT to members of the 2014 USA Junior Boys National Team

Fourteen year old Kanak JHA fighting face.

Fourteen year old Kanak JHA fighting face.

In the last few years I have seen young very skillful table tennis playing kids – step by step become group depending teenage boys.  Important learning now awaits for those wanting international success… Preparation – Tactical sense – Style awareness – Leadership are all attributes that must stick with the best more ambitious players.  Keep trying boys!

 

 

Solid INTERNATIONAL AMBITIONS to the ICC Table Tennis center in Milpitas

IMG_1770They do many things right – Rajul Sheth and his group of TT soldiers. Kudos for arranging the lounge at the Nationals and for trying to service the members. Close to fifty ICC players participated in Las Vegas and the medals trickled in as well.   This is a good club that hopefully would like to become even better. A new venue is planned for March next year. Future plans may include also an international event which no doubt will help to raise the level of the activities another step. I would like to see the ICC not only offer international level training programs – but also to compete internationally.  Good for players – good for coaches = Good for everybody.

The new USATT COACHING LICENCE model to the USATT board

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Perhaps time has come to demand some kind of official USATT coaching licence to coach at the Nationals..? Clearly it would be good to try to raise the standards of the coaching made available and also to create a communicative educational style of platform. Think about it for a moment. Is it really good for the profession of TT coaching that most of the work in an event of this nature is carried out by sparring partners/players – working as private coaches in homes and in clubs.  What I am trying to say here is that there is much more to the picture than blocking and top spinning for a couple of hours per day. For the development of the game itself – and the players – we should at least try to connect to the outside world a little bit more.   I can even see more advantages – protection and recognition for those clubs or programmes that are ready to invest in the future by absorbing such a model.

NATTPL – North American Table Tennis Pro League to all 

The time has come to make a move. Discussions and meetings should be replaced by firm hands on action. If there is a will – there is a way! Plenty of hard-nosed footwork is needed and we should start by scanning all potential key markets as well as the ITTF calendar for opportunities. Will it happen without an outside force getting involved? I doubt it.

Vote for Larry! Signs to the membership

I am frequent reader of Tabletenniscoaching.com.  Larry is running for a board position and we should by all means vote for him. The five campaign points starting with regional leagues are all well thought out and right on.  And… there is more.  Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers is one of Larrys many books on TT.  Not a bad read for some of the young talents ( and their parents) fighting for competitive advantages .

A smoke on the Peace Pipe to JOOLA and BUTTERFLY

Funny how the two leading TT companies in the USA are engaged in a competitive battle by pounding each other point for point. Both companies have launched their own low level pro tournament model – and are also running a major team championship on the very same weekend.  It might be better to perhaps cooperate and to support a more comprehensive – better structured USATT calendar.

One solid BOX for outside thinking – goes to all – including myself.

untitledThis is after all the Land of the Free Thinkers. Perhaps that’s why I am drawn to it.

Merry Christmas !

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Nothing Beats Excellence

The Talk of the Town ; Quadi ARUNA from NIgeria connecting with fans at the ISS Dome

The Talk of the Town ; Quadi ARUNA from NIgeria connecting with fans at the ISS Dome

Black dress and shiny shoes. It’s party time in Dusseldorf with one of the finest events we have on the international calendar – the Men’s World Cup providing the entertainment.  We are by now into day three of an event that over the last few years changed the format countless times.  Competing this year we have twenty players; six continental cup champions and then a mixture of players basically picked up from the world ranking with the green light selection related to having participated in the continental cups.

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Playing system can always be discussed and from the feel and talk of it – the blogger himself is getting old and clearly carrying the stamp on the forehead; it was better in the past!  My argument to expose the top players over three days with the traditional sixteen players’ four groups’ format was quickly dismissed by the ITTF Marketing guru Matt Pound as not very interesting. He wanted drama – knock out system and didn’t care for a minute having basically one day of qualification in a world event of this nature.

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All credit to him for holding fort and perhaps he is right. People of today seem to want a quick fix with high drama and immediate results. Anyhow – this doesn’t really matter. The world cup is still a presentation event taken seriously by the players. The best want to be here and they want to win .This is a rare situation in our sport. Often we have too many participation based events on the calendar – hard – or I would say impossible to digest for the few hard core fans we have.

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Can we review – rethink and perhaps launch some kind of new professional system?   Well, let’s ask those in charge and by all means put pressure on them to actually do it. The Pro Tour – World Tour or whatever you name it has been the same open to all concepts since it all started in the late nineties. National Association knowing or not knowing their own DNA? – enters players into a system, a concept   providing very little payback to the development of our sport    .Because – as I always said the future pulls the other way towards an individually based performance oriented system – driven by the passion for excellence.

Here in Dusseldorf we have seen good – entertaining table tennis. Ma LONG looks incredible good – strong –more technically innovative than I have seen him before – Timo BOLL is the hungry German this time and Jun MIZUTANI just dominated his quarterfinal match against Chuan CHI YUAN winning in five games. Last but not least we have the champion of all champions Zhang JIKE entering the Sunday action following a four to two win against the crowd favorite  ; The Nigerian twenty six years old fighter Quadi ARUNA.

And what a show he put on ARUNA. Not only did he win his qualification group – he also took out – like a sign from the Table Tennis God, Tang PENG from Hong Kong in the last sixteen stage early Saturday.

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It’s funny how good we all felt that something new was happening in front of our very eyes. The playing style is from the past – but the temper and personality belonged to something called the future. He showed fight and passion – two forgotten attributes that never fails because it brings out the best of you – the very true ideals – the honest you.

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Fourteen year old Kanak JHA fighting face.

Fourteen year old Kanak JHA fighting face.

What we watched this weekend, starting with a positive appearance from the fourteen year old blue blooded American Kanak JHA finishing with the ARUNA show was true development and nothing else. Players entering a field of world class players – not only to be there –to participate but instead to try their very best – to pursue excellence is more important than we may believe. These two guys separated by much – but still connected by passion and dreams each became not only noticed, but also celebrated by a knowledgeable – passionate group of German fans. It was nice to watch – we enjoyed it and so did others I am sure, following the action on some of the media platforms that we offer. After all we are talking two countries or markets as the ITTF Marketing Director Steve DAINTON says home to a considerable number of people. Last time I check the USA had more than 250 million people living in the country and for all what it matter – Nigeria is not too bad either entering the top ten most populated countries in the world with ease.

Lesson to be learned from the reasoning you may ask?  Well, my point is this.. We need to stay on track and have programs and for a sure an improved competition system driving excellence. Money invested into development can easy cover the basic needs of education – but there must be room for talented players to grow as well. Over the last few years I have the feeling that we somehow  lost track and drove right into the ever dangerous sport political mine-field.

Good, functional programs or key events on the junior side are therefore at risk. They may be slaughtered tomorrow for reasons that nobody really understand.  Just stop that. Rise up – stand up against pull-backs that limits the opportunities for young players in our sport. Instead it is time to invest – to review and to restart.

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One of the finest creations, an event that always been the centerpiece in the ITTF Global Junior Program is underway in Barbados. Of course I am talking about the World Cadet Challenge – designed for learning excellence more than anything else.  I will have to dig out the original vision for this event ;why it was put there and why we overtime came to connect around this event.

In a moment like this – I would say that nothing really changed. We are what we are – passionate workers – living of the gracious sport called  Table Tennis.  Somehow the ITTF  lost a positive identity –kind of the  the understanding of how things  will happen in our sport. I believe in excellence as one of the main drivers of development – this night 100 million Nigerians talking table tennis again or Table Tennis companies running hard to sign a young talented American understands what we all once collectively understood;  Nothing beats excellence !

Its Sunday night turning Monday morning in Dusseldorf . Life goes on .

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To Good to be Hidden in the Dark

Pretty Good read ; The article about Mr Big Power and the Good Persson

Pretty Good read ; The article about Mr Big Power and the Good Persson

With the ITTF Presidential countdown coming to an end ( very impressive work done by Sheri !)  - maybe it is time to start the ElevenPoint Blog countdown next. In fact as a kind of voice of the ever lively  inner dialogue within the ITTF,   we have less than four month to go before we need to shut up or somehow cut the blog  loose and set sail for the open sea.

Plenty to write about – much talk going around . The wonderful world of International Table Tennis is full of pretty much everything . It will of course be extra interesting to see the new ITTF President Mr Tomas Weikert laze up his skates and take a few strides on the more than often thin ice of sport politics..

But -More about that later. In fact just went here to post my tribute article to two great players of my time ; Wang Liqin and Jorgen Persson .  Two great guys that helped the blogger with Youth Olympic Games work throughout the summer..

So…Here it is the article about Mr Big Power and the Good Persson  ; WLJP

 

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Korean Training Camp “completes” Busy summer for “The Futures” of USA Table Tennis

uncle-sam-new1Could it be that we in the year 2014 are seeing the Table Tennis version of the “Summer of Sam ” developing right under our noses?

Believers in a better future for USA Table Tennis are at least lining up in appreciation of a true , hard-nosed , excellence driven table tennis summer set up for the leading US juniors, fuelled by a combination of individual desire and investments to top up the USATT financial input made available for the junior national teams and the YOG candidates specifically.

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If you happen to have the finger on the pulse of USA Table Tennis , you know that it is beating with increased intensity and eagerness these days. Lots of young promising players are on the rise and sustainable success might very well be around the corner, especially could the USATT somehow  shift gears, build on the collective interest for the sport and drive forward in a more organized fashion the coming years. Frequent readers of this blog also know my opinion that the ITTF or for that matter the TMS also should add some fuel to the fire by getting involved – but that is perhaps more wishful thinking..? Or – perhaps not Mr. Weikert?

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Anyway, leading individual efforts and huge private investments set aside for a moment, the more interesting part in this story  actually involves the increasing interest from many of the US top prospects to compete and train internationally during the school break – JUNE to AUGUST.

So far we have strong US juniors and leading cadet players performing  sensationally well in the CTTA/ ITTF Road to Nanjing training camp held in Shanghai in the month of June ,   had organized training activities set up in cooperation with Tamasu/Butterfly for selected athletes at the JTTA national training center in Tokyo , observed strong US presence (and success ..) in  the Korean Junior Open, followed this week by a much appreciated training camp  together with a fine KJTTA selection of athletes in Daejeon Korea.

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Korean and USA players lining up for instruction in Daejon.

Initiated reports from the now ongoing  camp, planned for eight days, are at least so far extremely positive with full praise going to the always friendly and supportive Korean Junior Table Tennis Associations for logistics and sparring.

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For the best and most ambitious athletes, those brave enough to spell out some kind of professional future in Table Tennis , with access to all the planned activities , US Open and North American events included , we are talking roughly two full month of international training and competition – in ASIA , mind you ! . Hard to beat as such and the potential outcome can be HUGE, should the mental and the physical side of the athlete-s hold fort.

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In fact the rising interest from US hopefuls and some of the more active training centers in the country , to explore the wonderful world of international TT,  has in itself caused some havoc in and around the much regulated NIKON Hong Kong Junior Open , coming up in one weeks’ time. No less than thirteen young US players are currently among the 160 athletes granted access to the prestigious event and from the rumor mill we can pick up that more US players indeed are eager to compete – but for the moment put on the waiting list by the organizers.

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Prachi JHA making a move this summer – fresh off a podium finish in the Korean Junior Open

Headache for the USATT and in extended form also for the ITTF system? Yes, perhaps from a pure administration point of view, but the overall dynamics are of course overwhelmingly positive. It is true that all of this might be tied to internal (fierce) competition in the US with in many cases parents being as much involved as the athletes themselves , which comes up as completely natural in a sport system built , first and foremost, on self-made success. .

Yet – the trick for the future and much needed improvements for the sport itself in the United States is to be found exactly by solving and riding these dynamics.

Right now we have an open road to improving the national competition model – and yes some of the old foxes of US Table Tennis are all on the right track claiming sharper and much more competitive series of national events ( USA Pro Tour ?) as one important piece of the puzzle . The dream scenario of course involves an individual tour to be tied up with a North American Pro League open for clubs and training centers. Other improvements should also involve a step by step re-shaping of the current High performance model to rise above mediocrity and short term solution to also incorporate new ideas to drive what very well could be a fine future for Table Tennis in the USA.

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Lily

Lily ZHANG the leading US player bound to compete in Nanjing – Youth Olympics

So far much of the self-drummed USATT media  reports  this summer have   centered around the USA representatives for the YOG 2014 ; Lily ZHANG the nr one US Hope in Nanjing and the still young, but increasingly interesting qualifier Kris AVVARI  and their whereabouts ( stormy coaching conflict included in that statement ..) . Lily, will no doubt be one of the players to watch in Nanjing. Her overall game is probably good enough to challenge for a medal in the singles competition , still hard work needs to prevail for the physical and mental parts also to fit perfectly come games time. To curb and control the rising expectations from back home is probably going to be the key to success for the US leading female player.

For Kris, on the other side,  the goals are of much more modest character. The experience from a long and draining training camp in China – from the hard learning in Korea and Hong Kong should hopefully help this young talent to embark on the road to becoming a more complete athlete, if so happens,  in fact not a bad victory for a player that for sure can play a huge role for the USA Junior Boys team destined for success at the world junior level.. That is if good old “Uncle Sam “ somehow get his wishes right – like he did in the summer of 2014 !

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The Sky is Crying

14028825315_7610634f17_bDid you notice that the sun seems to have lost its light and the sky is not as blue anymore?! . For sure it did not happen overnight; it is just that today you could clearly notice.  Day three of the 2014 World Team Table Tennis Championships in Tokyo and we went from bright spring-like sunshine to a rainy morning.

Could it be that the mighty Table Tennis god himself wanted to send a message to the international body of our sport on what should be its finest time, the day of the 2014  Annual General Meeting ?

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Actually this post comes to you from the meeting itself. I am in the back of the room listening to the only ITTF president I have ever served as a professional staff; Mr. Adham Sharara. This will be the last stop for him on a magnificent Presidential journey that lasted for fifteen years.

Many times I have wondered, like all of my colleagues, where he got the fuel from, the energy and the passion to lead us the way he did.  We have been treated with the best of   what he could offer; flexibility, trust and patience. We all made mistake along the way – but it was never met with the hammer, instead Adham gave you the chance to succeed with other projects.

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Certain things did however slow down the process  lately  . Maybe motivation – maybe political infighting finally took its toll on him?  Silence came into the picture as  a sign that something was not right  . Clearly an indication as good as anything that something would come up eventually. There was a time when everything was responded to, every single email loaded with arguments, explanation and at times new directions .

To meet up one on one with Adham, a very busy person, was always a rare treat. Many times the discussion could take several hours touching on things that really had no importance or relevance for the issues on hand.  Often it took the directions of sport politics and the whereabouts of colleagues and friends – before without you knowing it sliding into more important problem solving. I will miss those talks, the meetings with Adham. We will ,  all of us.  miss his intelligence – stubbornness, and his ability to close down the worrying path of anxiety. Some of us, like him triggered by a good solid disagreement will also miss his long world champion emails (to quote a good friend).

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It is true, in fact very true, that I clashed with Adham in some areas –general philosophy, tournament systems, ranking or what have you. In the end freedom of speech, perhaps my honest way of arguing did cost me in terms of loss of influence and the opportunity to hands on lead some of programmes that many believe are perfectly designed for developing our sport.   Of course 159 Eleven points posts over five years   did not help either – although I have to say that many of my articles in fact very much reflects all the good things initiated and approved by Adham .  I danced with the devil in that sense. It is seldom an advantage to be outspoken – engaged and quality minded in an organization like the ITTF. Sometimes better say nada and to swallow the pride.

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I have taken time to do this blog on my free time, evenings, nights and mornings. It has come from all corners of the world from  hotels, venues, airport and you name it.  The simple reasons for doing it relates back to my professional role driving ITTF Education and Training .  Not too much the formal way – waiving with certificates , approving this and that – but rather by working the minds of people to understand what the true opportunities are and what has to be done to explore them  .  I have taken the time to motivate the fans of the sport by giving them a few inside takes from the ITTF meeting rooms and I have tried hard to push coaches and supporters to take deep interest in ITTF programmes on offer .  That’s pretty much it –just an honest – straight shooting way to communicate that may have ruffled some feathers – but not more than that.  The Elevenpoints blog has been me with all my good and perhaps lesser good sides exposed.

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But, back to the rainy day in Tokyo and the announcement from Adham; “That this will be the last time I will lead this meeting as the president of the ITTF”. Of course  we know that Adham will continue to be present – not only in our memories but also as resource, mentor for the new ITTF President Mr Thomas Weikert once he takes office 1 September this year. This is the timeline presented for the transition – Adham will retire and hand over duties to Thomas , who then will get two +  years under his belt before the 2017 Presidential election. At the very same time, there is no doubt that the new President very quickly must come with a strong strategic plan bearing his signature  for this to work.  The ITTF, like any other organization , should allow for ideas to flow, in depth discussions to happen, for staff to be empowered and for implementation to happen.

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13559818394_9897e70f9e_bGood luck to Thomas – whom I met this morning at 0630, am in the streets of Tokyo. I was taking a slow morning run – Thomas a must faster one, but in the in the end we joined together for the homerun. What I always liked about Thomas is that he is not afraid of embracing the rule of engagement that used to be so present in our sport.   He has always carried the German team shirt with pride and passion. That may not happen anymore – political correctness rule over his new position.. Having said that – please remain the way you are – a true passionate fan of our sport and a competitor by heart.  

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14005708416_dc4a824498_bPerhaps the most emotional moment from today’s AGM action came when Adham formally “placed”  Mr. Koji Kimura – one of the best ITTF officials we ever had in the PAC – Presidents Advisory Council. Koji has always been Koji – fighting hard and honest for the things he believed was right from a development point of view. His presentations, often involving some sort of practical examples, were both funny and right to the point.    The short thank you speech he delivered from the podium today did not have any kind of bitterness either. We could all learn from Koiji’s outlook on life; It has been wonderful – a happy time to serve you all and to work for the development of table tennis he gracefully said

From all of us – Thank You Koji . To reach the 53 years of service that you have given to the sport I need another twenty – which will be difficult. We all owe you another one as well –Thank You  for letting us come to Tokyo and experience the 2014 ZEN-NOH World Table Tennis Championships. Without your passion and Adham’s vision we would never have been here.

Personally – and this is just a wild guess , I have a feeling that the departure of Koji Kimura from the ITTF Executive committee last year is one of the personal reasons that Adham mentioned in a short speech to close the meeting today . There are others of course – but I know that this was one of the many small arrows shot at one great ITTF Presidents heart.

No wonder that the light rain we experienced in the early Tokyo morning, suddenly, right at the very moment that Koji stepped down from the podium turned into more of a downpour than anything else. The sky was crying and so did I.

It is funny how you sometimes hit the same wave-length regardless if you are a fearless,  truth-seeking table tennis blogger or the mighty god of Table Tennis himself.  

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We Are Family

IMG_0813Much of the discussion raging in the political corridors here in Tokyo will this time be about the format of the future world championships. It is a true clash between performance and participation. Marketing –commercial values on one side screaming for better conditions and presentations,  and on the other side  the solidarity development aspects pushing for what perhaps is true spirit of our sport  ; solidarity and participation .

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It is of course a numbers game.  Free hospitality for more than 1000 people over  eight days is a bit of a toughie and then to add all the other requirements ,  the playing facilities needed , volunteers .stricter ITTF  directives  , we are putting any organizer through a tremendous test of patience and financial sustainability  .

Solutions are not easy to find. The much improved ITTF development work is doing what it is supposed to do – grow the sport from a participation point of view with the true meeting point being the world championships.  Arguments thrown from the marketing / media side are of course related to how to make the elephant dance and how to sell the world championships concept to sponsors and commercial partners.

Let’s see what happens . The latest news is that we will have some sort of cap for the future; Maybe 84 ?! , but more likely 96 teams, allowed to enter the team championships in 2016, with some adjustments of the hospitality rule connected.

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IMG_0814But here we are – action did start this morning and I am right now sitting in the Tokyo Gymnasium trying to overlook things.  In a moment of true passion I did offer to help out with the challenge to make the action in this hall also count for the media and our fans. The truth is that we have many teams here in the second, third division with tremendous potential for future growth.  I am also interested in those associations looking to make a comeback into the big stage – to play once again in the limelight, like India – like England – Italy or you name it.  My North American heritage (14 years of living) also triggers the interest to see what Canada and the USA can do this time.  Expectations are still low –but we need to add some spark for  something to happen on that continent .

The many young players that we have seen pass through some of our athletes development programmes are also a point of huge interest. Many of them still pushing for attention – but we know them well and must allow ourselves to enjoy their progress as a true passionate fan of our sport.  We are after all family – the ITTF family.

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