Another week of work in the name of Table Tennis
comes to an end. An interesting one though, as I am visiting Brazil for the first time on a promise made many years ago. The timing for my visit couldn’t be better. Seven years and counting to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Brazilian sport in general and Brazilian Table s Tennis specifically, are scrambling to find quick improvements and to build momentum.
First point on my weekly agenda was a face to face discussion with the Brazilian Olympic Committee and their top staff on Tuesday afternoon. In the aftermath of a + 60 million US dollar campaign to win the bid, the work is now shifting towards trying to set up a Brazilian performance model that can work.
This is not an easy task in a country where clubs, big or small, still plays a huge role in producing top athletes. The clock is indeed ticking for the Brazilian NOC to set up a more centralized function in the shape of national training centers. Given what generally is believed to be a step by step decline of the quality works in the clubs, table tennis no exemption, this process cannot wait more than a second or two. In fact it is a must for most sports in Brazil to centralize resources , quality coaching included to have any chance of making impact results when the games comes around in 2016 .
The “What Now Olympic Debate” is also starting to gain momentum as most sports are in a waiting position for more funding and a detailed planning. Picked up an interesting Sunday column in the daily sport paper about the “importance of putting the great carnival feeling aside” and instead focus on performance and preparation. “This is not a onetime spectacle just there for the sake of celebration. The Olympic Games is much more important. Brazil must take this opportunity to setup a functional and successful sport system “said the columnist.
Anyway.. Opportunities are there – I am sure. The “Brazilian GO For It Mentality” brought the games to Rio and let’s hopes that the spirit of joy and excitement now quickly transforms into a strong action plan also for the smaller sports involved.
“To run the games will not be a problem says my host for the week, long time figure head and president for the Brazilian Table Tennis Association, Dr Alaor Azevedo as we are crossing our way through Rios one way street system on the way to the CBTM office.” We will bring in experts to run the whole thing, more interesting and the real benefit will be if they can do something about the city of Rio especially the lack of a complete public transport system Alaor said”
Spending a week in Brazil, working in both Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, I cannot get the “Beauty and the Beast” scenario out of my system.
The games in 2016 I am sure will be spectacular – But I wonder if not the turning point for the ever so critical international press after will be Alaor just described; The City of Rio and much needed improvements. Public transportation or the lack thereof will draw interest and also of course the life in the poorer areas – the Favelas – sprinkled out all around the city.
The Favelas lack a proper street system which makes the people who lives there more or less invisible for proper identification. The houses – often three stories houses are randomly build without any structure and planning at all. “The basic principle is that you build your foundation and the first floor and then sell the right to continue building the second and then the third Alaor said. The government is working on several projects trying to sort things out. It is not an easy task that includes physically building roads in the Favelas. Violence is part of life of course – But it is mainly criminals killing criminals for the control of the drug trade and trafficking Alaor explained.
Back to the Beauty of it all. A run a long Copacabana Beach – only one of several beaches is not such a bad thing. The view from my hotel close to the beach is also breathtaking. No wonder rooms are already booked for the IOC in the world famous Copacabana Palace Hotel. We had a tremendous meal at one of the best Fish restaurants in the city – Restaurant Satyricon. Couldn’t agree more with Madonna who apparently has proclaimed the Red Snapper oven baked on a bed of sea and rock salt as the best fish she ever ate. The compact 2016 games concept is also promising.. Good news for Table Tennis is a central location of the venue, very close to the Olympic Village and the media center.
Sao Paulo is on the other hand the Beast. Not necessarily a bad one as the power house of the financial and industrial sector in Brazil. But we are downright talking a big player with its 20 million inhabitants living in the greater Sao Paulo area. Traffic is a nightmare often making simple logistical planning a bit of a guessing game. Travel with car from point A to point B can take anything from 20 minutes to 1, 5 hour. Six million cars flood the streets – a sprinkle or two and you are just stuck. A below par Subway system exists but the lines are too few and does not cover the needs. “They have been talking about expanding the subway system for over 20 years now.. I am sure it will be perfect one day. But not during my lifetime explained Lincon Yasuda – Technical coordinator of the Brazilian National Teams and based in Sao Paulo.
Our common goal for the week is to work with a group of Brazilian elite coaches for a two day special course and to evaluate the next generation of players currently in the system. We are in the CBTM National Training Center – a ten table training facility located on the compounds of Clube de Regatas Tiete . Once, a pearl of a multisport club in Sao Paulo – but now on steady decline and on the brink of bankruptcy.
“We are trying hard to set up the center here in Sao Paulo Lincoln said. National team practice is organized a couple of times a week and during the weekends. We are in great need to improve the facility in order to have the players staying over for longer camps – that would help us a lot Lincon concluded.
With a steady decline of quality coaching offered in the clubs, a refreshment course in international trend and qualities is just what the doctor ordered. Discussions are quite intense and the general understanding of the need for a new fresh start for Brazilian Table Tennis very dominant.
Given the good organization that exists from the top down with an excellent web system – well staffed office and structured leadership, Brazil could and should do better than the present can offer. Six years into the ITTF Global Junior Programme built for emerging national associations like Brazil, talent development is in decline. A trend clearly verified by for Brazilian standards weak results at recent Regional and continental events.
It also strikes me that having the three best male players; Gustavo Tsubois, Cazou Matsumoto and Thiago Monteiro constantly living and practicing in France, without strict national team duties in Brazil, is model to question. The Motivation for the next generation is in great danger and just like that the pressure in the system is gone.
As we wrap up one week of intense activities with a special Brazilian Hopes and Cadet Event, future aspiration however becomes evident. Caroline Kumahara born 1995 is a shining new female star that given the correct opportunities should challenge the existing orders of female table tennis in Brazil relatively soon. A run at London 2012 is not impossible and a Rio 2016 appearance in fact most likely if you ask me.
One year younger Hugo Calderon from Rio de Janiero is another good looking prospect. This young boy showed good understanding of the international game, winning the South American mini cadet championships last month in his first international appearance. Hugo’s power is of Formula One standard for the age whilst safety and control comes in much lower and less prioritized for the moment. However given the fact that he responded with hard work in practice combined with a good understanding of coaching offered, a Rio 2016 carrier is not out of the question despite a young age.
Saving the good stuff for last. Brazilian NOC is ready to open the door for neighburing countries. The general idea is to partner up with international sporting federations ( like the ITTF) and IOC Olympic Solidarity to offer venues and training opportunities in Rio relatively soon.
With the Future and a successfull Rio 2016 In Mind