90-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency
Day 90, June 3 - Interview with Incoming ITTF President Thomas Weikert: “Development of smaller associations is a matter that is near to my heart.”
Congratulations on your upcoming elevation to ITTF President, which will take effect on September 1. Now is a great time to get to know a little more about you. For example, I saw you enjoying playing table tennis last January at SPiN Dubai. Can you tell us about your background in the sport?
Already when I was a child table tennis fascinated me. The speed, the combination of athleticism and technique, the direct comparison with the opponent, the tactical finesse and that you can play table tennis even in your old days - all this makes our sport so special.
At the age of 13, I joined the club, in which I’m now playing again, TTC Elz. Back then I played football (soccer) besides table tennis, but at some point I had to make a decision between the two sports. And I chose table tennis. I relied on my gut feelings, and today I know that it was the right decision.
In my heyday, I played several years in the 1st Bundesleague. Today I play in Elz in the second team in league five. It's important for me that I play about once or twice a week. I always bring my racket to major events like the 2014 World Team Championships in Tokyo recently. I always try and use the opportunity to play ;-).
You have been president of the German TTA for quite some time. How did you decide to make the leap from player to official? What have been your most notable achievements?
It was a fluent transition from player to official. It was and still is important for me not only to play, but also to get involved. To complain about maladministration or bad conditions only does not help. You have to develop ideas and make an effort to change things, whether in the club or on the national or international level. Everybody has special skills: some are good coaches, some are brilliant organizers, others are good at dealing with sponsors. Lawyers like me are appreciated in the world of sports, as nowadays more and more things are, or have to be, regulated.
In the DTTB [acronym for German TTA], I started as Chairman of the Board of Appeal, then became Legal Adviser and now I have been President since 2005. This is how it started.
When I was elected DTTB President nine years ago, the association was in a difficult situation. After a big quarrel on the political level we have navigated the association into calmer waters by joining forces.
The DTTB is highly appreciated among German sport associations. We have 10,000 clubs and - among the 80 million inhabitants of Germany - approx. 600,000 club members who form a strong foundation, and our stars are world class.
We regularly showcase major international tournaments in Germany like the German Open, World Cup events or even World Championships to make our sport and its stars visible and approachable by live audience and media.
German companies who are our sponsors, are real table tennis enthusiasts, but also evaluate the benefits they have by their presence with us very closely and appreciate our efforts.
Two final important points: The DTTB currently has a very good anti-doping concept, a task that I am personally taking care of a lot. Plus, our national sports promotion program is excellent, even though we only receive relatively little public financial support as an association.
Germany has hosted the World Championships twice during your tenure. What were the objectives of the German association in doing so?
I wanted to follow world-class table tennis events live but at the same time be able to sleep at home. ;-)
Now seriously, it is part of our national strategy to present high-class events in Germany regularly. This helps our 600,000 club members and fans to identify themselves with their sport and with its stars. It makes table tennis appear on TV and other media, attracts interest of not-yet table tennis fans and is also a great platform for our sponsors. World Championships are of course the highlight par excellence, so we apply regularly to host such an event.
Certainly the German teams make a strong impression, with the Men's Team winning silver in Tokyo and the Women's Team coming in seeded 6. Plus, two of your men are in the top ten in the world. Can you reveal anything about Germany's high performance strategies?
In this respect, a big thank you to the athletes and their dedication to the sport and, in addition, to the coaches and the whole team of people working in the field of competitive sports. Without the coaches in the clubs, who take care of the youngsters, and the good job people do on the regional level, we as the national association would stand with empty hands.
All hand-in-hand, home and club coaches on the competitive sports level work together with our national coaches’ team. The coaches’ team is - on the organizational level - supported by full-time and volunteer staff, so that they can focus on their main jobs. All of them show a deep passion for table tennis and a huge personal commitment.
Our scouting and national sports supporting concept works brilliantly from the regional level up to our National Training Centre in Düsseldorf, where we gather our national stars who can daily train with the best in the country and often welcome training partners from abroad, too. It would be perfect, of course, if we regularly practiced with China's top players there...
Many people were a little surprised to see your candidacy for the EC in the 2009 elections, only because it wasn't expected. What inspired you to run for the EC?
In the DTTB EC we considered it to be good if - after a long time again - we were represented in the highest ITTF body. With the help of my sadly deceased DTTB EC colleague, Hans Giesecke, who was a member of the President’s Advisory Council at that time, I contacted Adham Sharara at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. In the following year I submitted my candidacy for the position of a Vice President of the ITTF and became elected.
Yesterday we saw how Adham Sharara linked his education and professional background with his style as president. As an attorney, our first lawyer as ITTF president, I believe, what unique skills and contributions will you be bringing to the table?
Thank you for this question. So I can praise my skills with impunity. ;-)
I think I'm a good diplomat. As a lawyer, you do not only want to obtain the best result for your clients, but you must also make proposals for compromise and agree to compromise. As President, whether on the national or international level, this is important, too, because you have to deal with opposite claims time and again. Big associations, for example, often have different needs and perspectives than smaller ones. Even though I represent one of the bigger associations, I also stand for the small ones. Development of smaller associations is a matter that is near to my heart. One of my aims is to expand the already well-functioning ITTF Development Program.
Unlike Adham I have never been a national team player, but I gathered much experience as a Bundesleague player and learned a lot about the sport with its athletic and mental demands. This helps me remain in contact with top players and their coaches. I want to keep my ears open to hear and to understand their needs, because without them we are nothing. In addition, they are the experts in the sport, it's their profession.
Through my involvement in my own club, I'm not going to lose contact with the ordinary average player and fan. In the league matches on the weekends I personally have to take responsibility for rule changes, answer questions, and I receive immediate feedback.
Last but not least, my skills as a lawyer are in demand. The world of sports is becoming more complex. Regulations which help people to orientate and set reliable standards are needed. Errors can have immense consequences, also financially. Therefore, to the greatest extent possible, many things need to be checked in advance; possible consequences and developments have to be anticipated. These are skills which I refine in my job as a lawyer every day, dealing with many different people from different cultures. The ITTF benefits from these skills now and also in the future.
Finally, it is interesting that your tenure as ITTF president will overlap with your fellow countryman Thomas Bach's IOC presidency. The U.S. men's national coach, Stefan Feth, has said previously that Thomas Bach is a table tennis enthusiast. Can you elaborate on his interaction with our sport?
Dr. Thomas Bach was always one of the first who congratulated me on new positions, either on the elections as DTTB President or Vice President of the ITTF. Of course, since he has taken office as IOC President we are in contact less often.
I got to know him when he was still President of the German NOC. In our positions we regularly had common ground at the national level. In addition, he is also a lawyer like me. By the way, this is not always a help ;-).
He used to be a world-class fencer. He became an Olympic Team Champion in 1976. But above all, I mainly know him as a great sports enthusiast. He has followed our sport several times live on-site. As his schedule as IOC President has increased steadily, it is not easy for us to find an appointment with him. Anyway, it is certainly not a disadvantage for our sport, that we know each other personally.
Thank you. I look forward to visiting with you again soon.