I hope this letter finds you in good health.
As the world begins to show signs of emerging from one of the biggest crises in recent memory, it is time to look forward with optimism to the changes we can make now to ensure our sport can return stronger than ever. At the same time, we must not forget the millions around the world who have been affected and continue to be affected by this terrible pandemic; our thoughts are with them all.
Of course, sport, like all aspects of society, has been affected. The disruption to athletes’ lives has been significant and, as organisers, we have had to cancel many events. On a personal level, I am disappointed that we will not be able to host you this year in our world-class exhibition complex in Moscow, on the occasion of the European Singles Qualification for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games; but I am sure that you will experience this wonderful venue for our sport in the near future.
However, this period of disruption has allowed us to think more about our sport’s future and the necessary changes it has to undergo to maximise its potential and meet the demands of the 21st century.
In a time of crisis, Mr Dainton showed leadership in writing to the global table tennis family with innovative ideas. I believe his proposals have merit and should be studied carefully. What impressed me the most was not necessarily the specific ideas themselves, but the fact that someone can think “outside the box”, identifying in his letter the problems table tennis is facing globally and seeking what is the best for our sport in these challenging times.
I am equally concerned about the future of Europe. We do not appear to show the same commitment to innovation and developing the sport we all love. It seems that our reluctance to change makes our progress difficult. And if changes are to happen in our continent, we must ensure we are all on the same page.
For example, as part of an Extraordinary Congress in Budapest this year, a proposal was made to include table tennis in the programme of the multisport European Championships in Munich in 2022. ETTU Member Associations had no information about it before the Congress and there was not a very clear picture of how it would work. Yesterday, on the ETTU INFO 2020/3 we learnt that the ETTU EB has signed a partnership agreement with the organizers. In my opinion, communication with the Member Associations has to be improved.
If people do not know what we are doing, then in their minds we are doing nothing. But by engaging with them, we can receive positive contributions. This attitude has to be changed.
After speaking with many European table tennis leaders and our outstanding athletes Vladimir Samsonov, Elizabeta Samara, Zoran Primorac, Jean-Michel Saive and others over the last two years, it is clear that we need to carefully think about our products, and eventually come up with a range of additional ideas and possible solutions to improve the level of table tennis across our continent.
For example, in Russia since 2015 we have been actively using new rules of table tennis, which made the game more entertaining and interesting for viewers and television, as well as for advertisers and sponsors. This is the absence of two points difference after 10-10, in the decisive game being played up to 7 points, and a larger number of balls. Many athletes including Dmitry Ovcharov and Jun Mizutani, playing in the Russian club championship, praised the innovations we introduced and are pleased with the dynamism of the game.
How can we make the ETTU Champions League even more attractive?
Entering into the third decade of the century, should new events be considered as the best tool to reposition our sport and elevate it to the status it deserves?
Or should we look to enhance our existing events?
I recognise that hosting a tournament of any level, particularly the European Championships in its current format, can be a financial, technical and/or organisational burden on the organiser. But, in my opinion, we can explore ways to make it not only viable to host this flagship event, but also profitable.
Should we consider separating the qualifying and final stages of the European Championships to ease this burden and maximise commercial opportunities? With the current system, or with a new one?
Should we embark on the multisport European Championships as it is apparently decided?
These questions have to be carefully studied by all ETTU members before giving a corporate answer.
Securing more media coverage, and enabling our Member Associations to host and showcase our sport, must be some of our key priorities.
Another consideration is that the spread of COVID-19 has revealed that training bases are not sufficient for today’s needs. During the pandemic, almost all Member Associations sent their athletes home. For the future, we need to ensure that top players are provided with everything necessary at their training bases. The renovation of training facilities to guarantee a safe location for athletes, coaches, and medical and administration staff is crucial. Furthermore, some of these training bases can be equipped well enough to even run as competition venues in a safe and controlled environment – a place where our athletes can live, eat, practise and even compete during some periods.
These are just some ideas, and it is clear that if we are to maximise our potential, we must draw on all the experience and expertise within our table tennis family. I would like to use China and its table tennis association as an example of proactive thinking shown in connection with the pandemic. When the virus began to spread in their country, the Chinese Table Tennis Association decided not to stop their training, but to transfer their players and coaches to Qatar (at that time not yet affected by the virus), and later to Macau.
At the 2020 ITTF World Tour Platinum Qatar Open, and thanks to Mr Khalil Al-Mohannadi, I met the head of the Chinese Table Tennis Association, Mr Liu Guoliang. As a former athlete, Olympic champion and world champion, he sees our sport from the inside and is a determined defender of table tennis. We must all show flexibility and creative thinking like Mr Guoliang, in order to find solutions to the challenges we face. I have agreed with Mr. Guoliang to continue our dialogue on the development of table tennis around the world.
I am also grateful to the many European table tennis leaders I’m in contact with for the very positive exchanges of ideas in recent times. On every occasion that we have such a discussion, I can see their true passion for our sport.
We are living in unprecedented times, and we need to establish synergies within table tennis which, I am sure, will lead us to a brighter future, if we work together.
Given all of the above, and after careful consideration of the table tennis situation in Europe, following the formal call for elections made by the ETTU yesterday, I want to announce to you formally today that I intend to run for the upcoming ETTU presidential election. However, I will only run for office if I see that Member Associations want to get European table tennis out of its protracted crisis. I strongly believe that it is only together that we will be able to restore the former greatness of European table tennis.
If I can count on your support, in the coming weeks, I will come back to all of you with more details on how we can, together, assure table tennis has a brighter future in Europe.
Member of the ITTF President’s Advisory Council
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