The “No Soup – No Lunch” Theory

soupThere is a lot to like about the Czech Republic! 

Take its friendly people for a start, and then add a nice cocktail of the genuine passion for sport –and their ability to always field competitive spirited athletes in almost any sport of their liking. Not to be forgotten – their general willingness to organize International Table Tennis.  The ongoing 56 Th European Youth Championships in Ostrava is the fourth major European Title event held here since 2006. Yearly World Tour events and ITTF Junior Circuits are also on the schedule.

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I have to admit that I always had the outmost respect for athletes from this country. In Table Tennis they have always presented themselves well. In Ice hockey – another passion of mine, they are in the top of the world and if you look at soccer or any team sports involving the best toy in the world – The ball – The Czech’s compete with good skill and in entertaining style.

Then we have the noble art of living a good life. Some of the best beers in the world are cheaper than water.  A good meal in a decent restaurant, at least in the Ostrava region, will only skin your wallet for ten euros maximum. The troubled spots seem to be few and far between.

Having said all that – Maybe the best attribute of all is their ability to cook a good soup. The general rule seems simple enough; No soup – No lunch!

“Here in the Czech republic you have to serve a soup for lunch otherwise it doesn’t really count ,  and we are pretty good at it as well said my host for the two days in Ostrava – the Czech National Association top manager Nikolas Endal .

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Nikolas Endal - the key person in Czech Table Tennis

Nikolas Endal – the key person in Czech Table Tennis

Searching my relatively speaking rich Table Tennis memory, relives that we met, Nikolas and I, for the first time during the early goings of the ITTF Global Junior Programme. Together we managed some of the Czech juniors included in the ITTF With the Future in Mind project.  The top male junior at the time Pavel SIRUCEK  did get something extra and even earlier than that we had Iveta VACENOVSKA on our list of athletes .   Nikolas also came to some of the inaugural World Junior championships with Czech players. Clearly I have one of the early supporters of the ITTF Global Junior Programme for lunch this day. And what a pleasure it is to meet one of the most capable hard working officials / professionals we have in the messy but still wonderful world of European Table Tennis.

At the mere age of thirty-six Nikolas Endal has done a lot of good for Table Tennis. He is the manager for one of the two recognized national training centers with one of the top league clubs in the country connected. He is heavily involved in running the daily operation of the association, and since one year ago also member of the ETTU Executive Board. He eats – sleeps and breaths our sport like very few officials does these days. This is a person – involved for all the good reasons;

“My playing career stopped early due to a back injury preventing me from practicing.  But I quickly decided to try to stay with Table Tennis and became the Nittaku agent for a short time before starting the management activities for my club in Havirov.  Table Tennis has been my profession for more than fifteen years now and I relay love my sport. It is moments like yesterday night when the Czech Cadet Boys won the European title that makes it worth all the hustle Nikolas explained.

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After a good, hearty Czech style of lunch – and yes the soup was excellent,   we make the fifteen minute trip to the city of Havirov. 

“It’s pretty funny actually. We are probably the only club in the world that is older than its city. Our club came alive one year before Havirov officially became a city – so we are well rooted and respected around here. Money and support can always be better and in that regard we battle with some lousy soccer teams and medium range Ice hockey team for some operative support. It’s a dog fight – but with 100 +, pretty active members some loyal sponsors and of course the city we are a functional hub for Table tennis in this region explained Nikolas Endal .

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The training and competition hall is nestled into a traditional apartment building kind of neighbourhood. Extra tables – newly purchased Joola 2000 S are  nicely lined up in the corridor and ready to replace the frequently used older crop of Tables ‘

“I do try to buy some new table each year Nikolas said. The actual playing venue holds nine tables, red taraflex floor floor and the club has the option to expand to a second hall when needed. Long term plans however calls for a major new venue to be built together with the city.

“Financing is of course not easy – but at least we have some concrete plans Nikolas explains and pulls out the drawings. I have been working on this for a couple of years now and we are making some progress he says. “

Pavel Sirucek - emerging young Czech National Team player

Pavel Sirucek – emerging young Czech National Team player

Over the years the Havirov club has been the home of many good and upcoming Czech players. The most famous one of them all – Petr Korbel started his lustrous career in Havirov and the still young and emerging Pavl Sirucek played his early years of top tt in this club.

“We are still hanging in there in the first league. This year we have one young player and perhaps you know Mihail Cihak – and experienced guy. He is also playing for us. The Czech Extra-liga in Table Tennis is by the way improving step by step – both in terms of quality and presentation. We have a very good agreement with Czech TV who picks up one match per round for a pretty good tape delay summary broadcast. Many matches can also be seen live on TV. I am pretty proud of the nice LED surround system that we are using as well. It’s really worth checking out.

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The combination club work and National Associations responsibilities can often be a lethal cocktail to juggle – not so much for this clever guy;   I think that we have pretty good understanding in Czech Table Tennis for the moment. The executive board is composed of four people and I work very closely with the president who is a visionary kind of guy.  My job is to make sure that the implementation process is functional.  In this moment we are slowly building a center structure. For sure it is still some problems in moving around young players who easily get stuck in a small club without proper sparring and expert coaching which hinders their development. But we are trying hard and with some improvements lately in terms of a new lottery law – giving us some more money – I think we are, in comparison to many other national associations in Europe doing quite OK.

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Just like that hours of availability is no more and we are returning to reality and responsibilities ; In the case of my Czech friend –  The running of one of the largest events on the European calendar ; European Youth Championships .   The turnover this year is close to 500 000 Euro – and most of the participants that I speak with during my short visit in Ostrava is “pretty happy with what they get”.

 It is what it is the European Youth – a meeting point for youth development in Europe. My feeling has lately been to push for a split, have the cadet events play in July and add junior championships, perhaps restricted in the end of the summer.  Not sure if that idea eventually will fly due to the fact that like many of our events; participation pays off.

“About of 80 % of the income is tied to the participants paying for hospitality here in Ostrava Nikolas says “ I am not sure that a change of that nature can work from an organizational and hosting point of view he adds.

Well said – and well done with this championship. And you know what; The Dark clouds hanging over the current ETTU leadership will eventually lift and  the “Big Dogs” in our sport stop barking. My guess is that Nikolas Endal – the thirty-six year old from Havirov in this wonderful country, by then is more part of the future than the past. We need the good guys more than ever in the gruesome process of remodelling and developing European table tennis – that is a simple, non disputable  fact. 

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