Friday 14 September 2018

Weikert's Vision and Leadership Continues to Carry ITTF Forward Towards a Brighter Horizon

I haven't conducted any interviews in over a year, but was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to connect with ITTF President Thomas Weikert and speak more about the ITTF; where it has been since his election and where it is heading. I also took an opportunity, and I appreciate Thomas being open in his response, to address the ongoing rumors about the relationship with his predecessor Adham Sharara, the former ITTF President. Thank you Thomas and well done on all your continued progress with the global growth of table tennis.

ITTF President Thomas Weikert continues to push the
organization and world table tennis to new heights
It’s been now over 12 months since you were elected President for the first time, certainly for me one aspect which continues to improve is the presentation and media coverage of the World Championship, and this year again broke social reach and viewership around the world. How do you feel things have been during the first year of you being officially elected ITTF President? 

It has been an excellent start. We took the first year as a chance to concentrate all of our energy on building a stronger foundation, which now allows us to really focus on a vision and strategy for the future. As you would have seen in Halmstad during one of the best ever World Championships, we presented to the members with what I believe is the most comprehensive strategic plan in the history of our federation that will guide us to new heights for the next 6 years, and hopefully beyond.

We are already seeing the immediate impact of this new direction – with overwhelming support, we created a new Foundation, took our marketing and sponsorship rights back in-house, had the first real clean-up of our constitution, and made what believe will be the most significant development towards massive growth in our sport by approving key structural changes to our World Championships. Let’s also not forget the impact our sport had on the world this year when a Unified Korean team made history at the World Championships in Halmstad. These are all significant accomplishments that might not have been possible before.

As I look back over the first two years, we can be proud, as a federation, of the progress made in such a short period of time. And this is just the beginning.

It must be difficult to run such a widespread organization with so many different areas to potentially focus on. What are the plans which you are more focused on for the near future? 

With our new strategy and vision, we have come to realize that we need to think big - as I said in my acceptance speech in Dusseldorf, it’s time for us to collectively stand up and be proud of our sport. Our global reach is massive, and the opportunities are there, waiting for us to see exponential growth and realize the full potential of the sport as a viable worldwide commercial product. As we looked at the opportunities, we realized that our staff resources and structure were not properly positioned for that type of big thinking, and have implemented an aggressive hiring strategy over the past months with more job postings than ever before in ITTF’s history. This will help ITTF grow in capacity to achieve all our ambitious goals outlined in our strategic plan.
That also means a top-to-bottom evaluation of our resources and structure across our global community, starting with our professional staff and understanding how we can better integrate our Continental Federations, national associations, and our highly engaged community – including athletes - into the overall strategic plan.

We are also putting a large focus on our next commercial rights cycle in 2021, which we will be going to market in early 2019.

I know your staff in Singapore is growing rapidly. I am interested to hear your plans for your global HQ? Will you stay in Switzerland or possibly move your HQ to Singapore? 

The ITTF Executive Committee has decided to explore options for our global HQ to be it moved to Singapore, as the majority of the professional business staff reside in Singapore, but ultimately, it's the AGM that will decide if there will ever be a move. As mentioned before, an important part of our plan is to better integrate and professionalize our assets worldwide, and particularly the Continental level. To an extent, we have already started that engagement and collaboration in North America, but have only begun to tap-in to the huge commercial potential on the continent that can be achieved through a more integrated structure. Our plan is to accomplish this by setting up a professional office and training centre on the continent and use that as a model for the future. 

Off The Table with ITTF President 
Thomas Weikert

China continues to dominate the sport in almost all areas. What is the ITTF’s view or any long term plan on that, given that in the past it has seemed like changes in rules were often (although not always openly said) tailored towards potentially trying to disadvantage China, particularly the change to the plastic ball in 2014? 

Yes, we prefer that China would have more competition, but we don’t believe that technical rule changes are a way to solve this. We prefer to support athletes around the world and give them more opportunities to be competitive, which is why we are putting a higher emphasis on regional training centres and an increased investment in global high performance. For example, we would love to have a top player from different parts of the world, including the USA, in the future and know that takes time and investment to make that possible.

During the previous election it was stated that the former ITTF President Mr. Adham Sharara heavily supported your opponent which caused a lot of friction. I know you both worked together before and I was at the ITTF AGM and voted in that election and there was certainly tension, have things healed between you both now?

Yes, that’s correct, he was supporting heavily Jean Michel Saive in the election. In my strong opinion this was not correct from the ITTF Chairman, a position which Mr Sharara held at that time.

In addition, we have grown increasingly concerned over the past 12 months that certain irregularities from past practices, directed either by Adham or under his direction, do not conform with what we believe are the principals of good governance and the standard that we must set for our Federation. This ranged from illegal bidding practices to offering financial support to different regional bodies and persons, without the usual internal approval, that could be perceived as motivated by personal or political gain.

Regardless of these issues, we felt that it was better for the sport that we honour Mr. Sharara’s legacy rather than to tarnish it, which is why we held a peace meeting with him during the World Championships in Halmstad. During the meeting, we agreed that we should try to find a way to cooperate for the benefit of table tennis and to build on the many good things he did for the sport. We still hope that this is possible because "hope dies last", but since the meeting have been made aware of numerous instances of his engaging in activities not in the spirit of cooperation, transparency, and good governance as agreed to in Halmstad.

While I do not want to be guess as to why he has decided to continue these activities, I know – for the interest of the Federation and the sport as a whole – they must stop. So many people are aware of the significant contributions Adham made to our sport during his tenure, so it is unfortunate that we find ourselves in a situation like this. My hope is that our Federation, under the guidance of the Executive Committee, is not put in confrontational position with him. At the same time, we also cannot let this type of activity continue and will take necessary action if needed.
We are now also aware that he will run to become President of Table Tennis Canada without any discussions with the ITTF which comes as a surprise to us. 

There is certainly a lot of positive momentum building in world table tennis and we look forward to seeing continued developments at ITTF. Thank you for your time Thomas and your hard work and commitment to the future of table tennis.  

1 comment:

  1. I hope that Weikert could do something to increase the prize of the top ITTF tournament. Interesting read about the war between Sharara and Weikert.


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