92-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency
Day 92, June 1 - Interview with Mike Babuin, USATT Chair and New ITTF BoD Member
“Never stop dreaming, never stop doing.”
As the Chairman of the Board of USA Table Tennis, you recently attended your first World Championships ever in Tokyo. But you're certainly not new to table tennis. Could you give us a brief background of your history in the sport?
I started out like many – playing in my basement as a child but, with no brothers or sisters, most of it was hitting balls against the wall. I stumbled upon a local club in 1973 and was amazed at the skill of the players. That was my first glimpse into organized table tennis. And I was hooked from that point onward.
Everyone has preconceived notions going into an event. In what ways were your expectations of the World Championships met and in what ways were you surprised?
I expected to see lots of talent – and I was not disappointed. Every table in the Yoyogi Gym was like watching matches of the finals in the U.S. Open (and some were better). The level of skill observed was incredibly high. I was humbled to be in the attendance of such great talent from across the globe.
Congratulations on becoming a member of the ITTF Board of Directors. What were your impressions of the meetings that took place in Tokyo?
The AGM somehow reminded me of the United Nations. Delegates from every country in one room at one time. Again, it was a humbling experience.
I was, and am still, in awe of the many dedicated people globally that promote and make our sport the best one on the planet. The BoD meeting was also inspiring. I met many new friends that I hope to cultivate long-term relationships with for many years.
I'm sure that you were warmly welcomed by everyone. Promotion of table tennis in the United States is a widely shared priority within the table tennis family. How do you see more synergy developing between the ITTF and USATT? What are USATT's biggest challenges in this regard?
USATT has major work to do. We have much going for us and great potential, however, being completely unfunded by our government (and mostly unfunded by our National Olympic Committee), means that we do not enjoy automatic television coverage like many countries are able to get. Television coverage is a major item that will launch table tennis in the USA. However, production costs upwards of $150,000 (usd) and then negotiating cable and satellite tv coverage is a tricky endeavor. We must overcome this obstacle in order to help grow the sport and to help ourselves grow. We are cognizant of this but are really struggling to ‘crack the code’ on a long term tv deal – but we have not given up at all – just need more time to work things out.
I understand that you have made a change in your life that will put you on the pathway to promoting table tennis every day in your professional life as well. Please tell us what's new with you.
After 29 years of doing engineering and trying to ‘squeeze in’ table tennis into my daily life, I have resigned and am accepting a position at the new Triangle Table Tennis Center in Morrisville, North Carolina (USA) as high performance and programming director. The facility is absolutely stunning: 30,000 square feet of space, offices, exercise room, lockers, showers, and 40 tables in our inventory. Lighting is world class (1,400 lux). Flooring is all Gerflor Taraflex. It is a dream center that now needs to start development, leading to elite training of juniors and cadets. And we plan to develop a top notch para- program as well.
ITTF President Sharara has named "promotion" key to his P5 Plan. As a promoter yourself, do you have any "words of wisdom" for the next generation of event managers?
Prepare to work as hard as possible for a very long time. Strive for quality, strive to build long term relationships with athletes, sponsors, and others that can help build success. Never stop dreaming, never stop doing.
It was interesting to learn that you have a major collection of table tennis memorabilia. What are your most prized objects?
Ha! Ha! This is a question most collectors hate to reveal because they don’t wish to let other collectors know what they have! However, I take pride in my collection of extraordinarily rare Stiga rackets thanks to a friend I have in another country (who will probably wish to remain nameless). I have identified and been able to acquire some of the absolute rarest rackets in the world – some are the only known examples. While I have many rackets of many manufacturers, the Stiga rackets are my most treasured ones.
In addition to rackets and memorabilia, I am especially fond of acquiring old table tennis programs (programmes for those of you in the UK!) because the programs tell the tale of the history of the sport at the local, regional or national level over time. Many also tend to be autographed editions – so I am privileged to have many from years gone by of table tennis legends such as Richard Bergmann, Laslo Bellak, Johnny Leach, and many, many more table tennis giants from other countries – including those from the U.S. in our ‘golden age of table tennis’ in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s.
How did you get interested and started in that as a hobby?
In a very unusual way. For years I was a lower-level player and could not improve. So I bought an old book on table tennis techniques. It talked about chopping, attacking, etc. I tried these techniques and it actually helped. But in the process I bought more old books, and through this became familiar with the pioneers in many countries that paved the path for all of us today.
It was the admiration and appreciation of what those before me did that fueled my interest in artifacts and memorabilia (and programs). I love old pictures and programs probably more than anything else related to table tennis collecting because they tell the story and history of things past.