It is sometimes easy to forget, much harder to remember. We talked table tennis (of course), life, trouble and joy last night. The discussion dug deep into the 15 of June 2013 here in Schwechat, Austria before it ebbed out at around 0230 in the morning. You see, two of my colleagues in the ITTF Education and Training sector origins from the former Yugoslavia, one time a super power in sports, Table Tennis definitely no exemption.
Dejan Papic , whom I have known since we met in the early nineties, when he was coaching the Qatari national team and I worked for the Danish, grew up as a young coach working for Partizan Belgrade with some of the best players in the world of that time; Ilja Lupulesco and Zoltan Primorac.
Trouble started – Bombs eventually fell and something extremely good (what Dejan calls a quality society) is now since a long time destroyed. Like most educated people , Dejan fled the country and started over as a table tennis coach in Qatar and later came to Canada. The ITTF gig that seems to be expanding (at least in terms of hours and time) involves the ITTF Hopes, new ideas in North America and feeding the new ITTFeducation.com platform with quality content.
Not an easy job-combination I can tell you. To still have access to Dejan and his true love for the game and coaching qualities is great news for the ITTF. We need people understanding the sport, knowing what it takes to work on the floor in order to move the sport of Table Tennis forward
The situation in his former country is however – in all aspects nagging on Dejan;
“When I left I had the feeling that I was never coming back. That changed overtime and I have been back to visit family and to deal with private matters. The way I see it, quality of life is getting worse and worse. The spirit of a once proud nation has disappeared and the moral of the young is on an all-time low level. People are starting to lose the hope all together; “If we do this – if we do that – things will become better people think. But when one sacrifice after the other is not making things better – the moral drops and people search for answers, often connecting with the wrong ideas on how to change things fuelled by the wrong people or eventually just leaving. It is strange – but In fact I have by now more high school friends living in the Serbian community in Toronto than in Belgrade Dejan said.
Polona Cehovin Susin , on the other hand was only sixteen years old when the war started in 1991. At the time she was one of the best young players In Europe – a true fighter and gifted competitor. Much of the same qualities that later in life have brought her professional success in the circles of sport. At the age of thirty eight Polona, has worked for the Slovenian Olympic Committee, The ETTU and since 2010 for the ITTF. Add in true love for the sport and some coaching experience and you have what seems to be the perfect leader for the ITTF Education Department.
“We were truly the lucky ones in Slovenia. Polona explained. That was the sense anyway – perhaps throughout the history we have always had a certain ability to flirt with lady fortune.
The present situation in Slovenia is however not that bright – like in many European former eastern countries the economy is running on an empty tank.
“We are no doubt in trouble Polona said. For so many years we had a growing public sector and that in combination with an aging population, still with reasonable pension guarantees, puts tremendous stress on the system. I mean we are a population of only two million in the first place. I believe that some 120,000 – out of 700 000 people in the working population are employed by the public sector. On top of that education is for free and many well educated people are not really that interested in taking the few lower income jobs that may become available – instead the opt for unemployment . It’s a tough circle – a system collapse of some sort where politicians keep raising the income taxes in order to keep the economy going – not good said Polona
So here we are – the three of us – slicing another night far from home in half. Brought together for this event, by the sport that somehow ( god knows how) managed to provide us with a professional role and money to live a decent life (at least up to now). The truth is that we have not only worked with Table Tennis, it has been a big part of our life .We have experienced the world through this sport. We may have our disagreements from time to time. We may even loose ( just for a moment or two ) the true belief in the sport and that the ITTF as an organization can handle everything dropped on its doorstep – be it political challenges threating staff or technical difficulties in more trivial forms.
But, eventually – what ties us together is something else. I think it is Passion for the sport of our choosing. I know we are lucky to be here. I know that many people out there would give a lot to be in the same position as we are and with that comes pressure and expectations.
Deep down however, at this point of our lives, it is giving Hope to others that count. That one time one of the young players – one of the coaches that we are lucky to meet during a week of this nature also is able to travel through life with Table Tennis.
Like we did – like we loved to do.