USA Table Tennis

Jun 08 85-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

By Sheri Cioroslan | June 08, 2014, 5 p.m. (ET)

Day 85, June 8 - Accomplishments during the Sharara Era

Adham ShararaHaving served as Deputy President & CEO under ITTF President Xu Yinsheng (1995-1999), Adham Sharara became the ITTF’s 6th president in 1999.  Upon taking office, he announced the P4 Plan.  Consistent with the goals his predecessors had established, Sharara’s P4 emphasized Planning, Participation, Popularity, and Profit as the frame of reference for all ITTF initiatives. 

On September 1, President Sharara will transition into the new post of Chair, while Deputy President Thomas Weikert will take over the helm.   And since “Promotion” has been added to the P4 model, making it P5, I committed to run an article a day as we count down the final 100 days of the “Sharara Era.” 

Today’s topic is the ITTF’s primary accomplishments over the last fifteen years.  Thankfully President Sharara already did most of my “homework” in the form of a presentation he made at the Annual General Meeting in Tokyo.  I am using it as the basis for today’s report.

Member Associations: Since 1999, the ITTF has added 40 member associations, an increase from 180 to 220 members.  That ties us with the FIVB (Volleyball) for the highest number of affiliations.  There are only five countries who have Olympic Committees, but do not yet have table tennis associations affiliated with the ITTF.   

Finances:  There used to be financial deficits before 1999.  As of January 1, 2013, the ITTF had a cash surplus of US$ 7,000,000.  An annual fundraising banquet, the Star Awards, was initiated in 2013.

Marketing Revenues: Prior to 1995, the marketing revenues mostly came from table tennis companies and were less than US$ 500,000 per year.  Now the revenues exceed US$ 5,000,000 per year.  Projections for the 2014-2020 period are about US$ 50,000,000.  Additionally, the ITTF has obtained corporate sponsorship as follows: China Unicom (since 2003), Volkswagen (2003-2012), GAC (since 2011), Liebherr (since 2002), TSA (since 2011), Tissot (since 2012), etc.   

ITTF Development & Olympic Solidarity:  As of 1997, the ITTF’s development budget was US$ $50,000 and its Olympic Solidarity budget was US$ 15,000.  Now the budget for the two together is US$ 2,000,000.  

Before 1999, there were 4-6 technical courses worldwide per year, with 3-4 equipment packages distributed annually.  In the 2009-2012 quad there were more than 400 courses, with more than 200 equipment packages provided worldwide.  There are now over 60 active Course Conductors versus 5-8 before 1999.

Before 1999, there were 3-4 continental projects funded each year.  Now there is a continental affiliation structure, with 4-year plans and formal Continental Development Agreements of Understanding as well as marketing assistance to the affiliated continents.

Olympics and Olympic TV Coverage: Comparing the last three Olympics with the results of 1992 (Barcelona) in which our sport was ranked 24 out of 26 in TV coverage, we have moved up substantially as follows:

            Athens 2004: Top 5

            Beijing 2008: Top 4

            London 2012: Top 5

Based on its own comparative analysis of numerous additional criteria, the IOC promoted the ITTF up to the next funding category after the 2012 Olympics, with an overall ranking of 9-14 among Summer IFs.

Other TV Coverage and Social Media: Before 1995, most of the TV coverage was local.  Now table tennis can be seen on Eurosport, ART, CCTV, and free on itTV.  In 2006, the ITTF was the first IF to offer live streaming free.  In 2012, the ITTF created its Facebook page and YouTube channel.  Now, among all IFs, the ITTF ranks:

            #3:  Most viewed streaming service (itTV)

            #4:  YouTube views (20,703,741)

            #4:  YouTube subscribers (48,000); already 55,546 as of 7 June 2014

            #7:  Facebook fans (152,000); already 160,000 as of 7 June 2014

Website Popularity: The ITTF launched its website in 1995.  Today, using comparisons from data gleaned from www.alexa.com, we are #3 among all Olympic IFs.   The ITTF reached the #2 most viewed website amongst all IFs during the Tokyo World Championships last month.

World Tour:  The ITTF initiated what was once called the Pro Tour with 10 events in 1996, including US$ 400,000 in prize money.  The competition has evolved and now has three tiers – Super, Major and Challenge -- with more than 20 tournaments per year, plus a World Tour Grand Finals, including more than US$ 3,000,000 in prize money.

Women’s Prize Money and World Cup:  The ITTF initiated the Women’s World Cup in 1995 with women receiving 50% of what the men were receiving.  Since 2006, there is equal prize money, US$ $150,000.  Women also receive equal prize money at all ITTF events.

World Team Cup:  In 1995, the World Team Cup was held in Atlanta as the sport’s pre-Olympics test event.  Then it remained dormant until it was reinstated as an odd-year event, beginning in 2007.

World Championships:  From 1957-1999, the World Championships were held only in odd years, with accompanying Biennial General Meetings.  Beginning in 1999, World Championships have been held for Singles and Doubles in even years and the Team competition in odd years.  2001 was an exception.  Both events were played in Osaka in lieu of a 2002 event.  Now the ITTF has an Annual General Meeting. 

Over the past fifteen years, four associations have hosted the World Championships for the first time:  Malaysia (2000), Qatar (2004), Croatia (2007) and Russia (2010).  And the Netherlands, which had previously hosted the WTTC’s in 1955, organized the 1999 and 2011 World Championships.

The largest ever participation was reached in Tokyo with 118 associations taking part in the Men's competition and 94 associations in the Women's event.

Junior Program:  In 1999, there was no junior circuit; by 2013, there were more than 30 events.  The Junior World Championships were inaugurated in 2003.  Since then, there have been 11 annual JWCs, spanning five continents.

Toxic Glues and Flammable Celluloid Balls:  The ITTF is now free of VOCs and will use safer plastic balls, effective July 1 this year.

Changes in Rules:  An open service is now the rule, hidden serves have been banned. To boost visibility and spectator suspense, the ball size has been increased from 38 mm to 40 mm, and games have been reduced from 21 to 11 points.  The introduction of the time-out rule has also increased court-side drama.

ITTF Executive Committee & Board of Directors:  The size and scope of representation has expanded and now includes 9 members, with representation from each of the ITTF’s 6 recognized continents.  Since 2003, three women have served on the EC, with one currently serving.  In addition, the ITTF has 2 women on the Board of Directors.

Headquarters & Staff: Previously the ITTF’s main office was in Hastings, with five staff, who only spoke English.  Now the ITTF is headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland (home of the IOC) in a beautiful ITTF-owned chateau.  There is also an Asia Pacific office located in Singapore, plus other satellite offices. 

The ITTF’s staff has grown to 22 with a 12-language capacity.  They telecommute when they are not attending ITTF competitions, teaching seminars, coaching, and participating in other ITTF initiatives.  Most of the staffers have a background in the sport.  Almost 50% of the staff is composed of women.  President Sharara’s philosophy has been to hire and promote within the table tennis family.  As another example of gender equality within the ITTF, Judit Farago, who is a past EC member as well as past competition manager, serves as the ITTF’s CEO.

Heritage:  Not much other than the ITTF’s own archives previously existed.  Now there is an ITTF Museum, which is in the process of being relocated from Lausanne to Shanghai.  A special exhibit is usually presented at each World Championships.  Online viewers can take a virtual “heritage” tour on the ITTF’s website.

In closing, the president has lauded the fantastic contributions of numerous individuals, most of whom I hope to profile in this countdown series.  President Sharara believes that compared with other IFs the ITTF should be “BEST IN CLASS” in these categories:

  • Website
  • TV Sport Production
  • Junior Circuit
  • Development Program
  • Paralympic Program
  • Marketing Ideas
  • Operational Structure
  • Professional Tour: The World Tour
  • Event at the Olympic Games
  • Staff/Team Structure
  • Educational Program
  • World Championships  

He may be biased, of course, but there is ample evidence that the ITTF is rapidly moving toward its goal of BEING IN THE TOP 5 IN ALL WE DO.  The impending transition leaves the ITTF in a position not only to imagine, but to pursue the realization of even greater progress!

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