We caught up with ITTF CEO Steve Dainton at the Seamaster 2018 ITTF World Tour China Open, to find out more about some of the major decisions and changes that were discussed and made at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) and Board of Directors (BoD) Meeting in Halmstad.
Q: This is the first World Tour Platinum event since the World Team Championships in Halmstad, and we saw many of the top players competing here, as the CEO, you must be very satisfied?
A: We are happy to see the top players back on the World Tour, it’s been a goal of ours to have as many top players participating at the most important ITTF events, especially since we made the change to the world ranking at the beginning of this year, we always believed that the new world ranking will help us achieve this goal. With our important partner Seamaster supporting the World Tour since 2017, it was important to show we are supporting our products more with a commercial mindset, aiming to massively increase our prize money in the future.
47 out of the top 50 Men’s players are playing here in Shenzhen. There has never been this number of top players participating at the China Open, so it’s very satisfying to see.
Q: At the Liebherr 2018 World Table Tennis Championships we saw some changes in the ITTF, for example for the first time the ITTF published a Strategic Plan and launched an ITTF Foundation. Can you tell us more about these?
A: The Halmstad World Championships was a really great event for the new ITTF, we were able to show all the positive changes we have made over the past 12 months. Under the leadership of the new Executive Committee and our President Mr. Thomas Weikert, one of our biggest goals was to come up with a Strategic Plan to guide the whole team to be working in a positive, transparent and guided direction. The AGM fully supported the Strategic Plan which can be found here.
In Halmstad, we also launched the ITTF Foundation. The ITTF have traditionally been very strong in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) area as part of our development programme in the past.
As part of our Strategic Plan, we are now making an effort to have two streams of development: one is the CSR and using “Sport for Development”, and the other is High Performance or “Sports Development”. Having the Foundation means we could separate these two areas of development in a much more clearer way and the Foundation can therefore fully put its efforts into the CSR projects of the ITTF and hopefully make them even bigger and have more projects than in the past. This was also approved at the AGM with full majority.
At the same time, we believed that the ITTF has to put more resources into High Performance to try and have more high-level players from different parts of the world competing with some of our favorite players from China, Japan and other parts of Asia and Europe. So, we would like to have more and more players from all over the world to compete at the highest level.
Q: We also noted, what some would say a controversial decision, that there will quite a big shift in the model of the World Championships in the future. Can you tell us more?
A: At the Board of Directors meeting, we had a proposal from our “Future Events Working Group” to have a major philosophical and concept change to how our World Championships will be played, with the full support of our Executive Committee. Traditionally we have an “open World Championships” where players from every country could play. But the reality showed only approximately 50% of our members participated and very few were visible in the media or in their own country.
The Future Events Working Group, after a long process working with the world-renowned Consultancy & Finance company Deloitte, came up with the proposal that players & countries will need to compete in continental stages to reach the final stages of the World Championships. As you said there was a lot of skepticism about whether this was a good move and direction from a lot of the members as they weren’t sure.
However, the great news was that the proposal garnered an extremely strong majority at the Board of Directors, so it’s a signal that the Board of Directors were in favor of this change. They represent all the continents showing they were also fully behind this new ITTF.
Q: Was there any other major changes in Halmstad and how was the general feeling to these changes.
A: One of the other big change was to the ITTF Constitution. In his election campaign in 2016, our current President Thomas Weikert mentioned that he wants to ensure that the ITTF follows Good Governance principles.
One of the first step was to look deeper into our Constitution, and to see what changes will be necessary to ensure better governance inside the ITTF. In fact, the proposal that went to the AGM consisted quite a number of changes. We were pleasantly surprised the AGM voted with 100% majority to make changes. I think a lot of confidence was gained at the meetings in Halmstad when the members and Board of Directors are fully supporting these big changes for the ITTF.
Q: We also saw the news of the Unified Korea team in Halmstad. It was such a wonderful story and historic moment, but there were also some critics from the sporting community. Was it a hard decision for the ITTF?
A: If you were asked whether you would help two countries to make peace, I think it’s a quite easy answer, especially with ITTF’s History of helping diplomacy and peace in the past. Of course, to implement the idea needed a lot of technical discussion, and these were not always easy to execute because it all happened at the very last minute. With full support of the other teams and with the Board of Directors’ full endorsement, then it was clear we should go ahead and everyone should be very proud. This was also justified by all major news agencies reporting positively about this action.
Q: In general, what can we expect to see from the ITTF in the coming months and years. What are some of the major goals?
A: Well, as I have been talking, you can sense that there’s a lot of positive feeling about the new ITTF, both our senior management and our Executive Committee were very impressed and happy that they got full support in Halmstad. Within 1 year to get that full support, it allows the new Executive Committee and our new senior management to go faster in our push to reform.
In the coming months, we will be increasing our capacity in order to become more professional. We will see more staff in marketing and media because this is an area that can expand a lot, it has been already doing very well since taking our rights back in house, but we really need much people to help us achieve the maximum goals, especially with increased support to our continents so we can become even more unified. We have increased already in Para table tennis as we continue to integrate more, and we will also increase staff in order to help grow sport for all, with a particular initial focus on TTX and Veterans.
We will start to see more development in our High Performance programme, where the ITTF will develop new modern programs, and even set up professional training centers around the world which are managed and operated by the ITTF.
We will work hard to come up with a fantastic competition model and system for the future of our World Championships. I think the new World Championships system and model can be a game changer for our sport, and most importantly be a game changer in parts of the world where table tennis is not as well developed.
These are the key areas that we will see a lot of effort from the new ITTF, and at the end it’s all connected to our Strategic Plan and it’ll be a bright future for the new ITTF.
It’s been a great year and a great start to the new ITTF, but I really feel it’s only the beginning. Table Tennis. For All. For Life.