04 Feb 2021

ITTF CEO, Steve Dainton, looks ahead to the challenges and opportunities for international table tennis in 2021.

Dear Table Tennis Friends,

I hope the global Table Tennis Family is doing as well as is possible in these times. It has of course been very sad to learn about many key figures in our wonderful sport passing away. Our thoughts are with those families and indeed everyone as we all deal with ongoing difficult circumstances.

2021. It’s a year we hope will bring more light coming back across the world. A year we hope to see the world recovering from this terrible pandemic, a year we hope will allow us to meet again, re-energise long-held friendships which have often been strained by distance, discuss all things table tennis, and most importantly, start to see our sport being played at all the different levels once again. From international events, to continental events, to regional-based events, national events, club competitions and even local leagues and community-friendly matches – we have all missed table tennis in our lives! And so, we are looking forward for more table tennis activity coming back around the world in 2021. Table Tennis is what drives us, what motivates us and for many of us is the reason we get out of bed in the morning – no matter what!

In 2020, through our #RESTART series in China, together with the Chinese Table Tennis Association, we were able to deliver some hope for international events and, in the process, prove that even during a crisis, when we work together within table tennis, our sport can prevail. It was also testament to partnership working and support from our players that WTT Macao could take place in November and in doing so provide a taste of what is to come this year. In these difficult and challenging times, there are certainly some positives to help drive us forward.

It has also been very encouraging to see some continental events and many other matches and training sessions taking place around the world. Well done to all concerned, it is more evidence of the energy, passion, commitment and togetherness that exists across the global table tennis community.

From a financial perspective, the ITTF has also weathered these difficult and unpredictable times to ensure the organisation dealt with circumstances and was ready to bounce back. The entire ITTF team has been doing its best to bring us all together on various business areas and work areas through various technological tools and adapting to the current situation by offering more activities online. It has also been important to be as agile as possible to ensure that the ITTF continues to move forward with its bold, progressive, modern and professional plans which we had originally laid out in our Strategic Plan, and now also through the newly established World Table Tennis. Our hard-working ITTF Executive Committee met on 16 occasions to discuss and debate the overall situation, and mostly to try to find solutions to the various difficulties that COVID-19 created, whilst still keeping a keen eye on moving the development of the sport forward. The start of the year however is so far delivering us news that proves to us that the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over: many countries are now registering record numbers of infections; the recent discovery of various new strains of the virus circulating globally; worldwide, many governments adopt tighter restrictions.

Although the start of the global vaccine rollout is bringing us all some hope, there is still a long way before being completed. International travel is still majorly disrupted and there are many quarantine measures in place around the world. 2021 clearly still poses us many challenges and perhaps the world will not be moving freely until later in the year.

Nevertheless, we remain resolute and positive and with the knowledge and experience of 2020, we can continue to work with all of the ITTF Family to try to find solutions. In 2021, despite the pandemic, you can expect to see the ITTF continuing its pathway towards professionalisation and doing its best to deliver programs and events, while adapting to the current complicated situation and reality.

What are our plans, hopes and dreams for 2021?

Firstly – the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo. The ITTF is working closely with the IOC and IPC to ensure the table tennis event can be a huge success. The success of the Games as the IOC states will help give back hope and reunite the world. The ITTF team will do its utmost to assist the IOC, IPC and Tokyo to deliver the Games this summer.

Secondly – WTT has been an idea for many years and it’s a proud moment for the sport and the whole ITTF Family to see it come to life in 2021. Although the world today is a very different place than what we had planned for and the current international environment is far from ideal, WTT, as a newly established entity and platform, can adapt to the situation – to be flexible, nimble and at the same time make strong long-term partnerships. To start to deliver what we have discussed and promised for so long, albeit in a different way than planned. It is of course a significant challenge in a complicated external environment but at the same time it’s exciting to finally launch.

Thirdly – despite the huge effort and tremendous work carried out together with the Korean Table Tennis Association, the ITTF, based on KTTA’s advice, had to take the heart-breaking decision to cancel the 2020 World Table Tennis Championships in Busan. It is therefore imperative to look for solutions to be able to host the 2021 edition and not need to cancel again. We will all do everything we can to ensure the World Championship titles can be won by our star players in 2021 in Houston, USA as the first option and as decided by our AGM in 2019.

Fourthly – in 2021, due to the fact that we are still unable to restart our High Performance and Development (HPD) activities in the regular format, we will look for new and innovative ways to deliver programs and resources to all 226 members. A membership service program that our HPD team and Members Relations Department will unveil in the next few weeks continue to provide as much support as we can.

Last but not least, 2021 is a historical year for the ITTF as it marks a 50-year Ping Pong Diplomacy milestone celebration. A moment in time when our sport helped to foster positive relations between the Peoples Republic of China and many western nations, the most famous being the United States of America. We will look to find ways to celebrate one of the most famous memories of our sport and establish a version 2.0 of Ping Pong Diplomacy.

Of course, we will keep striving to develop many different areas of our work, such as equipment professionalisation, continuing the TT-United campaign through the ITTF Foundation, doing our best to restart Youth, Para, Veteran and TTX events, and even further strengthening our governance. Our new continental partnerships will also play a huge part to determine the future of the sport globally and we look forward to ongoing discussions with continental colleagues.

The work doesn’t stop and whilst we give everything to get as many events and activities back up and running, we must still navigate the challenges of the pandemic and be flexible as some plans change on a weekly and even daily basis.

The ITTF team’s doors remain firmly open, we are here to help where we can, so please reach out if you feel you have specific questions or needs. We are aware that 2021 is an election year which may bring complications and complaints from many different corners of the world as people try to position themselves, but rest assured that us, the staff, will continue to strive to push forward the changes and the strategy in a professional way as we always have done.

Even though many things are still out of our control, due to COVID-19 restrictions and despite a difficult 2020, we remain buoyant and optimistic about 2021 and what we can achieve. We hope to be in a position soon which will allow us to continue our growth strategy as we clearly were able to achieve prior to the pandemic.

Many thanks to the entire table tennis community for your patience and we look forward to once again discussing table tennis face-to-face all around the world.

Table Tennis. For All. For Life.
Steve Dainton

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