Ten Years After

8755494328_0cc37ae6fe_cAs we all know;   Time Flies Fast and Furious.

Almost to the day ten years ago we had, in the wonderful world of international table tennis, a relatively fresh-faced Werner Schlager from Austria presenting himself as the new world men’s singles champion in Table Tennis .

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The year was 2003 – the arena the same as now ; Paris Bercy Omni sport  and we were all experiencing  the hay days of the new Pro Tour , that somehow in the early goings , provided a clear-cut professional option for the athletes tired of playing gruelling ,  time-consuming league matches .  If my memory does not fail me – Werner himself credited the many tour stops that year as the main reason for winning the championships.

My feeling was that our events in general had that optimistic bounce in them.  The Paris 2003 Worlds marked the first individual championships and for a moment there – although many problems that we had then, still remain today, we believed in the format to make Table Tennis (the sport) much bigger by enforcing rules and regulations about the presentational aspects.

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Ten Years After – Table Tennis is a sport dominated, almost at will by one country. We have a World professional  tour swimming in deep dangerous waters with the media partners asking for  changes  , with  the lineup of sponsors thin and the  top athletes drifting  in and out all according to their own   interest.  

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8754370395_cd78278b2f_bAs for the world championships – well, it is bigger alright – in fact swelling by each year as it seems. The numbers (participation, free hospitality) are a grim read for the future organizers effectively adding financial pressure and general stress to the chosen few thinking about organizing.

Today – Ten Years After; The ITTF family is larger than ever. It is no doubt  due to the carefully  constructed  ITTF Development program, now  perfected , operating  in full sync with a growing number of humanitarian programs available in the world of sports.

Of course many of the ITTF members, as they are entitled too, target the world championships for a yearly meet and greet with friends and foes from all over the world. Consequently we have – without thinking very much just made the WTTC into a massive participation event now facing severe problems in terms of finding a home in the future years. Yes – I know that we have a home in Tokyo next year – in China the year after and even in Malaysia 2016, as well as in Sweden 2018.  Having said that – it is time to reflect on the reality, to spark the discussion and to put some serious thoughts on the table for a new slimmed down concept.

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It is the final day of the 2013 LIEBHERR World championships in Paris. Long gone are the days early in the week when you had to use your very best machete to cut out a place to even watch the qualification action in multiple venues. We opened this event with more than eight hundred athletes waiving the “We are ITTF family” flag – all in good participation spirit. According to the Director of the championships and my old friend Michel Gadal – some three  hundred of those played two matches or less before folding their gear and left with no other choice than to enjoy one week in Paris , hospitality paid. Not a bad gig by any account.

Today however all but six participants have left the red Paris Bercy floor and are now comfortably seated in the stands to watch our the athletes dressed I red or yellow ( China) battle it out for the two remaining titles. They better keep pace the Chinese – because In fact, following the conclusion of three events, the mixed and men’s doubles and the women’s singles they have only won one!

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Take that the world of table tennis and dig yourself into some deeper philosophical thoughts. Is the competitive world of table tennis returning reviving right on front of our very eyes – or are there other forces pushing from behind?

For the ever so truth-seeking and at times provocative eleven points blog this is gold stuff and for sure worth one or two investigations.  Could it be that we have to turn the clock some forty years back  to the time of friendship and thrown matches to find the source of some odd Chinese selections for the men’s and mixed doubles ?  – Or is it just (please pray) a sign that in these events two other double pairs were the best in the field?  Better leave that question open for a while.  But seeing the great competitor MA Lin completely off track in the men’s doubles final without even the simplest level of focus was scary to say the least.

The singles events have of course been different. Too much potential personal gain, pride and competitive spirit involved for the Chinese super stars. Full credit should also go to some of the challengers in the men’s singles with wonderful stuff thrown by Kenta MATSUDAIRA from Japan as well as from the Germans Patric BAUM and Timo BOLL.  Positive signs can also be seen in the sand if your circle include the top 16 or top 32 performers  with Omar ASSAR from EGYPT and Noshad ALAMANYIAN  coming in as living proof of  success by the  ITTF Global Junior Programme and the projects attached.

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The Women singles? Let’s agree that it is open for business, serious business! Could it be that we have a slight problem with national associations not really raising their level   , lack of quality   coaching, female athlete’s development – you name it   ! – When the most progress indeed is shown by some young athletes from Korea DPR?

But let us for a moment come back with some general reflections on this event; The World championships in Table Tennis 2013.  They have done well the organizers under the leadership of Michel Gadal and his staff to ride the big world championships elephant ( or as the ITTF Marketing guru Steve DAINTON pointed out  ; “Could it be a  Dinosaur ? !)  through the narrow streets of Paris. But then again here in France – and perhaps that is the beauty of this  country , the parties are all thrown magnificent  , staged with   small worries about the financial outcome . The system often has support filtering down from various levels of city , regional and the federal governments , leading you to believe that the existing mentality is something along the lines of  ;  “someone else  will eventually  always pick up the tab”.

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Like always in France “le parti ” in Paris Omni sport was great – the crowds showing up in good numbers enjoying our sport presented the way it should be; in a modern stylish ,  entertaining format.  All that covered well for deficiencies  like some lower level of hotels and the cracks in the  transport system.

I have no idea how the accounting books will look like after this event. Win – loss – break even  ?  , or call it investment for the growth of our sport in France – it really doesn’t matter a day like this. Some of the ideas introduced, especially the country-wide MONDIAL PING Tour, are of great promotional quality , appealing in a very nice and humble way  to the important group of  casual Table Tennis  fans.  Another positive sign for the future of French table tennis was the many young fans populating the stands in the venue, many of them surely pulled in by the excellent Baby Ping programme

You see – Good ideas do work – in fact even the strongest army in the world will eventually ran out of steam trying to defeat them.

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8740090617_da7bb3dccd_cThat was some of the good stuff – now to the ugly part; Political infighting.

It is evident that the almost total collapse of European Table Tennis now is spilling over to the ITTF ranks and events. Stefano Bosi, the European president for seventeen years in a row,  made his choice to run for presidency   in the ITTF.  I am guessing that most presidential campaigns in the world of sport have some sort of rough agenda.

This time however the ugly play – the accusations made by a group of disgruntled outsiders made me sick to my stomach.  Did they ever , for a secod think about the sport itself  ?  Instead of attacking the ITTF President since fourteen years  in person – a man who in his very own way and with a strong sense leadership, on a volunteer basis , has given our sport a tremendous lift  ; They  should at the very minimum  have come with a program – suggestions on how to improve international table tennis , some  creative takes, and perhaps a  new model.

But no way – these guys and gals took the fight to the dark streets of Paris.  They launched a tiring and deflating  misguided  attack on  President Adham Sharara .  It was all about the Big P as in Politics and Personal gain-s – nothing to do with sports.  Commons sense in the end prevailed. Order must now be restored and European Table Tennis revolutionized .The time has come for a change  – let it be a BIG one .

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