60-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency
Day 60, July 3 - Richard Scruton Reflects on the 2012 Olympics
“It was an opportunity to make a contribution to the sport at the highest level.”
Yesterday the Countdown visited with Raul Calin who is the ITTF’s Events & Olympic Games Expert. Today the Countdown revisits the 2012 Olympics through the eyes of the Table Tennis Manager in London.
What a life-changing experience you must have had being the Table Tennis Manager at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. What was the selection process in which you were chosen?
As the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG) 2012 Table Tennis Manager, it was an opportunity to make a contribution to the sport at the highest level. Organising and managing the Olympic and Paralympic Table Tennis competitions was my best experience in Table Tennis and I will always be grateful to my predecessors, particularly Neil Harwood (Sydney in 2000), Georgios Seliniotakis (Athens in 2004) and Yao Zhenxu (Beijing in 2008), for their help and guidance.
Having been referee of the Olympic Table Tennis competition at Athens 2004, I had some knowledge of Olympic competition and procedures to add to many years organising competitions at all levels. When London was awarded the Games in 2005, I wanted to be the 2012 Table Tennis Manager. Directing an ITTF World Tour event (I had been the referee of the very first ITTF Pro Tour in the 1990s) and another international competition in 2009 gave me the confidence to be ready for full-time LOCOG employment in early 2010. I had used my time in Athens talking at length with the ITTF Technical Delegates Messrs. Harwood and Yao, gaining from their experiences, and as a LOCOG employee I spent 4 weeks prior to and during the Beijing Olympic Games learning, observing and asking questions. Mr Yao and his staff were particularly helpful and I wrote copious notes, almost a book.
I returned from Beijing with a problem. How could I maintain the standard set in Beijing?
I understood from Richard McAfee, who served in that same position at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, that there is a manual that very clearly sets outs timelines, objectives, formats, etc. Assuming that was the same case for you, in what areas did you have some latitude to put a unique "stamp" on the presentation of the sport? And how did you do so?
Yes, there are IOC manuals, procedures, timetables and more. But the Sport Managers did not spend their time engrossed in books. Knowledge of Organising Committee (OCOG) workings, working with LOCOG personnel from many other delivery and functional areas, possessing documentation from past Games, event organising experience, sport knowledge (knowing your sport and its needs), standing up for your sport, team building skills, these were key components to delivering a successful Games.
I spent much time putting together my team. I recruited Sheila Mercer. She was a professional event organiser in London and had 30 years of experience working at the Wimbledon tennis championships with the referee team. That was my best move.
We had to deliver Olympic and Paralympic competitions at the same level as Beijing. That included a great field of play, high standard back-of-house lounge, training and warm-up facilities to ensure satisfied athletes and coaches, well-trained and polite volunteers, professionalism and commitment throughout our team.
It took some time to get our field of play look and design as we wished, but thanks to Double Happiness Shanghai, ITTF President Adham Sharara, Neil Harwood, and the LOCOG Look team, we were successful.
Sheila and I spent many hours, usually weekends, selecting and training the volunteers. I had seen the Beijing volunteers in action. Volunteers make a difference and our team of volunteers, young and old from every possible background, did themselves proud.
But it was the Table Tennis Sport Presentation team who made the Games even more memorable and gave the capacity crowds an experience to remember. I had been asked in 2010 if we were willing to try some new ideas and we worked together to ensure the use of theatrical lighting, theatrical and musical expertise, and announcers connecting with the audience at all times giving us that extra momentum and buzz. Table Tennis was the place to be, there were queues to get any spare tickets.
I had met Jonny Cowan, one of our two announcers/emcees, in Glasgow in 2009, and I recommended him for Table Tennis. Jonny created a magical atmosphere for everyone within the seating bowl.
Looking forward to the 2016 Olympic Games, what "transfer of knowledge" role will you play?
I wrote the obligatory post-Games report and have had meetings with my Rio 2016 successor at the World Championships in Paris and Tokyo. As an Olympic Technical Delegate for Rio 2016, I hope I can pass on my experience as Rio prepares and plans for 2016.
Professionally you have moved on to being the Secretary General of the European Table Tennis Union. Could you share with us what your main areas of responsibility are?
My chief tasks are to support the ETTU President and his Executive Board team, to lead the staff, and to ensure high levels of professionalism throughout the ETTU's main areas of activity. We are currently undergoing much change and significant management and organisational reviews have been necessary and will continue. Our income streams from commercial and sponsorship activity need refreshing. Our development activity and programme have been revamped and focused on athlete development and coach education. The inclusion of our sport in the inaugural European Games in Baku next year gives us an opportunity to showcase our best players. The winners of the singles events qualify directly for Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Working with the ETTU President, Ronald Kramer, and my deputy, Pierre Kass, is enjoyable and stimulating. We have begun a long journey to rejuvenate and transform European Table Tennis together with our ITTF partners.
Thank you very much, Richard, for your participation in the Countdown series.