51-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency
Day 51, July 12 - Petra Sorling Discusses Para TT, ITTF Finances, and the Future
“I will work hard to contribute as much as I can.”
Petra Sorling, the President of the Swedish Table Tennis Association, is also the ITTF’s only female member of its Executive Committee. Today she discusses with the Countdown her various roles and responsibilities.
It must be fun, interesting and special to be part of such a dynamic national association. At which point in the history of the Swedish TTA did you get involved?
Both my father and my older sister played Table Tennis and I started to play in 1978. I played in a very big club with many girls and girls’ teams in the third highest divisions. Marie Lindblad was the best female player in Sweden at the time. She played in my club and served as a role model. We went with the club to Gothenburg to see both the World Championships and the European Championships. One big moment was also when J-O [Waldner] was in the European final against [Mikael] Appelgren at only 16-years-old. At that time Appelgren was my favorite player and later on posters of him, J-O, and Jörgen [Persson] were on my walls at home.
What was your personal early experience in the sport?
From about 10-years-old I travelled around Sweden competing, and I was one of the best in my age category. I was also one of the youngest players (13) when I played in my first team match in our highest league. Some 20 years later I started to coach, mainly boys.
What kind of roles did you have in the Swedish TTA before joining the ITTF’s Executive Committee (EC) in 2009?
I was Deputy President of the Swedish TTA.
Your candidacy in 2009 was a bit unexpected. What prompted you to run?
Well, I was a Board member of the European Table Tennis Union since 2007. I was encouraged to run by Mrs. Claude Bergeret, who was in charge of the ITTF Women’s Working Group at that time. Since 2005 I was the European representative in this group.
Let’s go over some of your EC duties. Please tell us a bit about your role in Para Table Tennis. What are your primary interests, objectives and concerns?
When I was first elected in 2009 my main focus area was our youth and the junior program. For me this was the same area as I was in charge of within the ETTU Board. Youth and education is very close to my heart. When I was re-elected in 2013 my dear friend Patrick Gillman was also elected. Since he was part of the Junior Commission from the very beginning, he naturally wanted to continue in that area.
I found it interesting to learn more about Para TT, so I decided to ask if I could have this as one of my new focus areas. Of course it is with the utmost respect, as I am a total newcomer in this field, but I do think we can do more in terms of integration and promotion. I will work hard to contribute as much as I can.
Another responsibility area for you is finance. Can you tell us a little about your professional background in this area?
I have a financial background. My degree is in Business and Administration from Lund University in Sweden. After finishing my studies I worked for several (15) years within this area and in the last years as CFO for the biggest real estate company in Sweden. From 2005 I took on more business responsibilities and became Managing Director in another company. I now run a real estate company, with Turning Torso as one of our more famous buildings.
At the AGM this year, President Sharara said that the ITTF now has US$ 7 million in reserves. How does that compare with 2009?
In 2009 the surplus was around $4 million.
To what do you attribute the ITTF’s financial success over the past several years and what strategies are in place to increase revenues, as well as the reserves, for the ITTF?
The increase in income comes from marketing income and from the IOC increase. We hope to have more income in the future by raising the value of our events for higher sponsorship income and also higher TV rights revenue. We should also receive an increase in the IOC Olympic funding because we are now classified in a higher group (C) by the IOC. We are also renting out some of the extra space we have at our headquarters in Renens-Lausanne, which generates extra yearly income. We hope to reach over $10 million in reserves by the end of this quadrennial.
In the past year you also took on some duties related to ITTF staffing and human resource matters. Can you elaborate?
Actually “staff” was part of my portfolio from the very beginning in 2009. While helping the President I remember we had a lot of meetings and email correspondence before the new staff structure took place. This field is very familiar to me since I have worked with HR matters for almost 20 years and I found it interesting and important to create a “flat structure.” In addition, in the beginning I also helped out in the recruiting process for several positions. This is a never-ending job and I look forward to continuing to support our CEO in this field.
With the transition in the ITTF presidency, are there any special words you’d like to say about President Sharara?
Adham is one of the smartest people I have ever met. He has, in a unique way, taken our sport to a professional level. Many of us learned a lot from Adham and his efforts for table tennis will always live on and speak their language. The next President awaits the challenge of leading an organization that is going through a more administrative phase, but with continued development focus in each area.
You hold the highest elected position of any woman in the ITTF. What has that been like?
For me it was a big surprise when I was elected in 2009 as the only woman in the EC. Before me both Judit Farago and Claude Bergeret were part of the EC. However, this work has to start on the national level. I believe in the way we are working now, which is that this area is incorporated into our Development Program.
Do you have some words of encouragement for other women who would like to pursue a leadership track?
To my fellow women in Table Tennis, I want to encourage you all to take part in our family. You don’t need to know everything from the very beginning. Take your time to learn first at the national level. And even more importantly, support each other. I´m always ready to help if needed.
In Sweden I am the first female President ever. When I was elected some 12 years ago to the Board, I was the only female Board member. Since 2013, I have been the President of the Swedish TTA and our Board consists of 4 women members and 3 men, with an average age of 47.2 years.
Without disclosing your exact strategies, can you discuss what steps Sweden is taking to recapture world titles?
STTA is working hard on increasing the number of players by trying to support the clubs in this important job. Our club system plays a key role on our way back to world titles.
What, if any role, are your past World Champions playing in that respect?
Our former World Champions are very much involved. Both Appelgren and Waldner are still active in their clubs. Tickan [Ulf Carlsson] and Thomas von Scheele are working for our association. Also, Peter Karlsson is still involved and Jorgen Persson worked with us in the bidding process for the WTTC’s in Halmstad in 2018. We highly appreciate the knowledge these former players bring in.
Can you inform us about how Halmstad won the 2018 bid?
Sweden was bidding during the 2013 AGM for the 2016 World Championship’s. In agreement with our competitor, Malaysia, we decided to ask the AGM delegates if they could allocate the 2018 WTTC’s to Sweden and Halmstad. That is how it was decided. We are very proud to welcome all teams to Sweden and the City of Halmstad in May 2018!
Thank you very much, Petra. I especially like that you have encouraged people to take part in the table tennis family.