by Ian Marshall
Born Melecio Eduardo Rivera Burgos on Tuesday 9th August 1938, like all the interest in the sport of table tennis started as a player and continued into his later life; notably in his more senior years he competed in Central American veteran tournaments, causing many opponents problems as he used the long pimpled rubber on the backhand to good effect.
It was not be high level play in which he was to gain distinction; for Melecio, although competitive, it was fun to wield the racket, win or lose. Somewhat differently, he was to prove an outstanding official and administrator; the roles that he fulfilled, and the accolades received over a period of 40 years enough to fill the pages of an encyclopedia.
Most pertinently he was President of the El Salvador Table Tennis Federation from 1983 to 2017, an unbroken period of 34 years; from 1987 to 1999 President of the National Olympic Committee, from 1990 to 2007 the same role for the Central American Table Tennis Confederation. Furthermore, he was President of the Central American Sports Organization (ORDECA), from 1994 to 2001 and Executive Committee Member of the Central American and Caribbean Sport Organisation (CACSO) from 1994 until 2003.
Later from 2006 to 2010, he assumed the position of President of the Latin American Table Tennis Union before in 2009 joining the Executive Committee of the International Table Tennis Federation, a position he retained until 2017, before being elected the ITTF President’s Advisory Council.
The offices only partly reflect the status Melecio Rivera held in the sporting world; it is when you visited his house and entered his meticulously organised office that you realised the standing he achieved, a photo shaking hands with the Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, underlined the fact that he was an official of the very highest order.
A player, an administrator but there was one quality that exceeded both; he was the perfect host. Everyone was welcomed to El Salvador with a genial smile and an open heart; you were his personal guest in his home. It was for him of vital importance that you enjoyed your stay to the full.
Nowhere was the welcome exemplified more that at the El Salvador Junior Open; a ground-breaking tournament, the first in the region to be a member of the ITTF World Junior Circuit.
First staged in 2005 and named the “Super 5” the greeting was prevalent before play even began. Sweden’s Peter Karlsson and Emanuel Christianson led a training camp which incredibly some 100 players attended, the tournament followed and was held without a break until this year when the global pandemic brought a halt to international play.
The event proved that a small association could host successfully an event of international stature. Just as in 2009 and 2013 when San Salvador was the home for the Latin American Championships, Melecio Rivera welcomed members of the press on the eve of proceedings. He made sure everything was in order and the door was wide open.
On the first day of play, players, coaches and officials were greeted in the grand manner, a colourful opening ceremony in traditional style, a marching brass band and dancers in splendid local costumes. Everything contributed to an atmosphere where both competition and co-operation went hand in hand.
All reflected the caring and thoughtful nature of Melecio Rivera but more important, much more significant was that in the evening, on at least one day during the tournament, he opened the doors of his house.
In the courtyard at the rear of the premises, everyone was treated to a five star buffet, the very highest menu; simply that occasion summed up the character of Melecio Rivera, a man for the people, a man for table tennis, the genial host.
Welcoming the world but most importantly he cared deeply about El Salvador, the Nittaku Dream Building Programme brought table tennis to towns throughout the country, to the deprived areas. It gave young people the opportunity to play a sport that was fun, realise there was a better future than being dragged into the underworld of gang violence. The contribution made was total, complete, comprehensive, and genuine.
A most caring personality, the smile, whoever he welcomed, whether an eager child or a high level dignitary, remains in my mind as strongly as ever; farewell good friend, never forgotten, Melecio Rivera, rest in peace.