Dear Table Tennis Friends,
2021 is well and truly upon us. It’s a year we hoped would bring a new lease of life, a year we hoped would allow us to meet again and, most importantly, a year we hoped to see our sport being played at all the different levels once again.
However, 2021 has proven that the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, with many countries continuing to register record numbers of infections, the recent discovery of new virus strains circulating globally and governments adopting tighter restrictions worldwide. Although the promise of the vaccine rollout brings some hope, there is still a long way to go. International travel remains heavily suspended and it remains uncertain as to when the previous rhythms of our lives may resume.
Nevertheless, we soldier on. Armed with the knowledge and experience of 2020, we are in better shape to deal with the current situation and you can expect to see the ITTF continuing on its pathway towards professionalization, whilst adapting to our complex reality. 2021 clearly still poses many challenges, challenging us to reconsider the way we operate as well as deliver our events. We are living in a new reality and a new normal, compelling us to become acutely aware of the world around us and act in a more sustainable manner through hosting multiple events in strategically located Hubs across the globe.
From a financial perspective, the ITTF has managed through difficult and prudent measures to weather the unpredictable times and achieve stable financial results in 2020. This puts the ITTF in a much stronger position as compared to where it had been in the previous months.
The entire ITTF team did their best to bring the entire table tennis community together through new available technological tools, while adapting to the current situation and overcoming the various difficulties to ensure that ITTF continues to move forward with its bold, progressive, modern and professional approach as originally laid out in our Strategic Plan, as well as through the newly established World Table Tennis.
During this period, we have also had the chance to take the time to sit down and re-evaluate our current situation. In doing so, we have put together some programs and structures in order to ensure that once the pandemic is over, we can go ahead full steam.
What are our key objectives for 2021?
Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games
Despite all the challenges and difficulties it took to get to this point, we are now confident that the Olympic & Paralympic Games will proceed. With only a few weeks left before the start of Tokyo 2020, our team is working closely with the IOC & IPC to ensure the success of the table tennis event. As stated by the IOC, the success of the Olympic and Paralympic Games will help to restore hope and reunite the world, and our team will do its utmost best to ensure that table tennis will assist them in delivering it.
Following the heart-breaking decision to cancel the 2020 WTTC in Busan, it became imperative to look for solutions to host the 2021 edition and ensure that the World Table Tennis Champions are crowned in 2021. Our team is working around the clock together with the Local Organiser and ramping up preparations in anticipation for the 2021 WTTC to be held in Houston, USA, in November. This marks an exciting moment in history, as it will represent the first ever WTTC in the history of ITTF to be held in the Americas, the home of one of the biggest and most sophisticated sports markets in the world.
World Table Tennis
Having been birthed as an idea many years ago only to take root and achieve realisation in 2020, WTT represents our dedication to the sport and is a proud moment for the whole ITTF family. In spite of the extremely trying circumstances under which we began this monumental project, it has been both exciting and satisfying to finally begin the official journey of World Table Tennis. Starting an international sports event company during a global pandemic has been the most complicated task that our whole team has ever had to deal with. Amidst the backdrop of the pandemic and its challenge we are fully committed to this project and will continue to strive for these positive goals, to ensure that WTT and table tennis are major successes.
The biggest achievement for WTT in terms of events is without a doubt the Middle East Hub. After years of meticulous planning, WTT was able to show the world its vision for Table Tennis events. A big thank you to Qatar Table Tennis Association, its President, Mr Khalil Al-Mohannadi, and his team for their support in successfully organising the WTT Middle East Hub and hosting over 600 participants amidst a global pandemic.
Despite all the challenges, the WTT Team is working very hard to try and ensure the realisation and success of as many international events as possible. WTT is confident in coming back stronger after the Olympic Games with a full suite of events in 2022.
During the first half of the year, WTT has also successfully launched its Youth Series with the first events kicking off in Portugal, Tunisia, Czech Republic and Slovenia and we are overjoyed to finally see the young players back at the tables.
WTT will soon be announcing plans for the WTT Feeder Series to start in 2022, a new tier of events addressing the middle tier players.
Partnership sales have been most challenging, given the uncertainty around the event calendar as well as the financial disruption the pandemic has caused most global companies. Ongoing discussions are being held with several potential partners and some new exciting commercial deals will be announced regarding our biggest markets as well as some up-and-coming regions in the coming weeks.
Activities across all the other areas:
High Performance and Development
The Participation program that our HPD team and Members Relations Departments unveiled in the last few months has turned out to be, thus far, the flagship program of 2021. This new Participation Program will enable more Member Associations to connect with and take advantage of the services we offer than ever before. It also shows our commitment to digitalisation with the innovations we introduced in the form of our ITTF Online Services via Pingprofy and our embracing of Artificial Intelligence through Stupa Analytics.
In addition, the Hopes program went digital in 2021. As one of our most popular initiatives in the past years, set up as a global talent identification program, it continues to play an important role in the scouting of future stars of our sports. Although we hope that the young promising players will be able to get together on-site toward the end of the year, in the meantime they will be offered the opportunity to do so online in the following months and work from all corners of the World under the watchful eyes of our experts as well as some prominent guests that will join the online training sessions.
We will also continue with our scholarships, namely the well-established “With the Future in Mind” Program, in cooperation with Olympic Solidarity. In 2021, not less than 30 players of all age categories will benefit from this support that aims at accelerating their journey up the development pathway right to the top.
The popular HPD series “Weekly Training Lessons” and “Table Tennis at Your Fingertips” HPD Webinar series continues to be rolled out regularly, addressing very different areas and topics from across our sport.
All in all, it is projected to be a busy period for the HPD Department with the successful Training Camp in Doha and launching of its first Youth Training Camp in Slovenia. Stay tuned for more innovative programs, projects, and initiatives that the Team has been intensely working on.
The ITTF team is now working closer together than ever with the Continents and creating new synergies through a Master Continental Agreement with the main objective of developing and promote table tennis in the different regions. These new Continental Partnerships will also play a huge part in determining the future of the sport globally.
Undoubtedly, this last year has been one of the toughest for our community and yet, we continue to be determined to bring everyone together – in a socially distant fashion – and maintain the quintessence of World Table Tennis Day.
The 2021 WTTD edition celebrated gender equality with FEMpowerment as the central message of the event, with all entities within the ITTF Group supporting and contributing to the campaign. In order to reach as many people as possible from all ITTF Member Associations, the final agenda included a 24-hour online stream with various live sessions including meet & greets, coaching and workouts.
It is also worth mentioning that the ongoing fundraising campaign #TableTennisUnited continues to support various initiatives and individuals from all over the world thanks to multiple generous donors.
We will continue developing the different areas of the sport and improve professionalization. Through the newly established equipment department located in Cologne, Germany, the ITTF is slowly building a team of professionals working tirelessly to develop new equipment testing and approval schemes, with the main objective of creating a new equipment laboratory where major projects can be brought to life.
In recent years we have constantly proven that table tennis is an integral sport and that ITTF is following the modern good governance principles which have led us to a significant improvement in the IF’s Ranking in comparison to previous terms.
The ITTF is currently revising its overall future Governance structure with discussions related to development plans and even more robust Control Mechanisms to keep raising the ITTF’s profile among the International Federations in the Olympic Programme.
We all witnessed the excellent work done by our Secretary General and Legal Counsel that led to the establishment of an independent disciplinary Tribunal – ITTF Tribunal, and we hope to announce the new Integrity Officer position within the next month.
50th Anniversary Ping Pong Diplomacy
2021 is a historical year for the ITTF as it marks the 50-year milestone of a moment in time when our sport helped to foster positive relations between the People’s Republic of China and many western nations, the most notable being the United States of America. This historical moment brought a new perspective to table tennis, where it continually reminds us of the power of the sport and its ability to unify. On that premise, the ITTF will be celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Ping Pong Diplomacy for the next two years, and we are looking to promote understanding, creating dialogues and resolving conflicts between countries. In order to aid that objective, the Ping Pong Diplomacy Task Force has been established, aiming to shape the future and promote various activities across all entities of the ITTF group.
After this extremely difficult period, we hope to soon be in a more positive and powerful position, which will allow us to continue our growth strategy undeterred. Despite the numerous challenges of a global pandemic, we strive to be as confident and optimistic as possible in order to bring to you a memorable and promising 2021.
With less than 5 months to the ITTF elections (scheduled during the 2021 AGM in Houston at the end of the year), my strong message remains the same: elections and politics are for the politicians, and as professional staff, we remain focused on our projects and try to deliver as many activities and events as possible.
Our team is working harder than ever and will continue to fight in the best interests of the ITTF and table tennis!
Many thanks to the entire table tennis community for their patience as we try to navigate the new world to bring back activities in these uncertain times.
Listen to the CEO speak about the current state of the ITTF