Wednesday, 01 Mar 2017 12:21 | By Martin Sörös
In the 1980s Thomas Weikert followed his passion and played table tennis in the German League. On 1 st of September 2014 he took over the presidency from legendary ITTF-president Adham Sharara from Canada. Guiding the biggest Sports Federation in the World with 222 member nations Thomas Weikert (55) is speaking in an interview with Yutang Sports about the challenges and about the future of table tennis. Three month before the start of the 62 nd World Championship in Düsseldorf he knows exactly: There is a lot to do ...
Mister Weikert, you took over presidency from Adham Sharara in 2014. Your interim balance sheet?
I started as President Sept 1st 2014. Even I knew a lot about ITTF because I was Deputy President, I started a survey in many areas, such as finance, development, sponsorship and others.
I analysed carefully the internal processes.
After that together with "my " staff we decided which projects we will focus on, because they were successful, others were dropped, and , certainly we/ I started and planned new projects.
I would like to mention, without being complete: Our new website, TTX, " Made by China", the stringent implementation of the WADA - Code, the Good Governance and Ethic Code.
We plan many additional development projects.
And last but not least....maybe the most important one: ITTF bought the marketing rights from TMS and is now from Jan 1st owner of all marketing rights by itself.that means we already started to gain " fresh" money.... And there are clear signs that we should be successful in the near future.
Furthermore, it is extremely important to work in acompletely transparent as and much more closer together with the continents o develop table tennis in all areas.
Adham Sharara was definitely a big player in international sports community. How tough was and how hard is it to follow up a man like him?
Indeed, I stepped in big shoes. He left a good base.
But than it was my task - to use this base and strengthen these areas and develop and push new projects. And we already started as mentioned in the first question.
ITTF is now with 222 member nations the biggest sports federation in the World. What does it mean for you and for your federation?
Indeed Table Tennis is one of the biggest Sports all over the world.
We are very near to say : Table Tennis is played in every corner of our planet...only 4 nations are missing. After May 2017 normally only two more are missing.
We should fight to fil this small gap. I hope we will be successful in some months.
Our goal must be that our fantastic sport is played all over the world; we must continue our efforts make table tennis live and vibrant in every possible territory on planet earth.
To have so many countries playing table tennis is a huge responsibility for ITTF and myself to take care about them and to try to exaggerate their possibilities.
Whats about your job description in the world of Table Tennis. Its more about sports or more about business?
It is both.
From January first , I'm as President responsible for the area "marketing", so of course more work.
But sports itself is very, very important. That means, that I have to observe as man matches at different events as possible. And this not only at higher level also in development areas with „beginners“. I still try to play as often with my team as possible. So you can be sure that I´m not only a theoretician for table tennis. So it is not only to have meetings and talking in theory about our sport. But of course there are many things you have to talk about, you have to made decisions and this is our business.
Under the umbrella of Mister Adham Sharara ITTF changed a lot of rules. Whats the next steps? Any plans?
Indeed, we had some important and useful changes.
We have no concrete plans yet, but of course a lot of discussions. Many of them are connected to TV wishes, but also to make our game more transparent to people watching table tennis for the first time:
- using many balls ( like in China Super League ) to save time between the rallies?
- change of service rules. Laypersons often don't understand, why world class players are not able to return the service of the opponent. It is hard to see the spin in the ball.
-only best of five at single events to save time?
-a kind of Tiebreaker in the final set?
As I mentioned above, these are only ideas which are proposed from different groups (athletes, umpires, delegates etc.).
I have no concrete plans, we have to evaluate carefully.
There is always the rumor about an existing plan to increase the height of the net (now: 15,25 cm) to make the game slower and easier to “read” for the spectators.
Yes , we will test this possibilty in the near future as we had a proposal at our last AGM. The Delegates decided to make a survey about the influence of a higher net on the game.
You are (also in other functions) in the center of Table Tennis since many, many years: Whats your explanation about the dominance of China?
I guess it is very easy: they have a lot of talented players, a lot of very good coaches and they work very hard with a total focus on table tennis. That means they practise very hard, they have an extremely good education as they start very early with professional practise. The education is not only directly connected to table tennis itself, also in all physical and mental areas.
Many media (and visitors) start to get bored about this domination by China. Can you understand?
I unterstand a little bit, but in any case it is not the fault of China.
Therefore, I started again to have an even better cooperation with CTTA as it was in the past.
The responsible persons of CTTA, namely President Cai Zhenhua, but also my collegue in the ITTF-EC, Mr. Shi Zhihao and, of course others, for example CTTC, are very open to have a close cooperation with ITTF, but also with other associations and continental federations.
CTTA is helping other associations especially by sending coaches and players as sparring- partners, they also help in financial matters.
I'm very thankful regarding this fact.
And, as mentioned above, we will start together with CTTA and CTTC the project "Made by China" , which means that interested players will not only stay for some weeks in China to learn, practise and study. They will go there for a much longer time.
We, that means ITTF and CTTA will finance the project together as partners.
What was going wrong in Europe in the last years? Except Germany with Dima Ovtcharov and TimoBoll, in almost all other countries there is not really a development to gain optimism that the gap to China could get smaller.
Only a few European associations , have worked in a professional way in the past, which, certainly, was not only a problem of knowledge, but also a lack of money.
If I observe it correctly, since some years a couple of associations have begun to develop table tennis (again) with a lot of financial and technical support.
If you look at Romania, Russia, France, Germany (of course this enumeration is not complete, I only name some examples, but also at some smaller associations, you can see that they are on the right track.
How hard is it to “survive” as a traditional sport in our changing world? You always have to fight for sponsors and TV.
We have a lot of interest from potential sponsors. We have very good TV figures and extremely good figures in Social media.
All sports federations are fighting for the youth of this world. What about ITTF-plans to motivate and fascinate the people from tomorrow?
Our goal must be that our fantastic sport is played all over the world; we must continue our efforts to make table tennis live and vibrant in every possible territory on planet earth.
We have a fascinating sport and we have to use more and more social and digital platforms and implement the innovatively systems we started to use in the recent months: The ITTF released a 360 degree table tennis video, new camera positions were tried; itTV in HD quality was launched on all devices.
Let us make a final outlook? Which role in the world of sports do you see for ITTF and Table Tennis in 20 years from now?
First, again, playing our fantastic sport in every possible territory on planet earth! But in 20 years we should have good structures and world class players from every continent. Children should say, "Hey, I want to play table tennis, it is such a cool sport!" :-)