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USA Table Tennis

77-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

By Sheri Cioroslan | June 16, 2014, 5 p.m. (ET)

Day 77, June 16 - Paying Tribute to Our “Founder-President” Patriarch: Hon. Ivor Montagu

“No goal could be adequate that did not embrace the whole of mankind.” 

Ivor MontaguIn yesterday’s interview, President Adham Sharara addressed his motivation in becoming ITTF president, “I had some goals to achieve and I thought it best to achieve them as president.  But in reality I was never made to be president of such an organization.  I am NOT a politician, I am a diplomat and a teacher.  I tried my best to lead the ITTF through diplomatic means, and I see the ITTF as a provider of services, especially educational services.”

It is interesting to contrast his views with those of our ITTF patriarch who served as “founder-president.” In describing the fact that he had served in that position for 41 years, from the age of 22 until 63, the Hon. Ivor Montagu stated, “I became lumbered with a responsibility more or less for life.” (The Youngest Son, 1969, p. 219)

He explained, “If anyone asks why I accepted this decree of fate in its initial phases the answer is absolutely clear.  It was neither from illusions of grandeur nor (any longer) dreams of prowess as a player.  My reason was political – simple straightforward philanthropy.  I saw in Table Tennis a sport particularly suited to the lower paid, above all – since it was played indoors – in crowded towns.  Its equipment was relatively cheap, it did not require extensive or expensive special premises.  Nor, at least in those days, could it be staged so as to accommodate great numbers as a spectacle.  Hence, as I saw it, there could be little profit in it, no income to reward wide advertising, nothing therefore to attract the press.  Yet its low cost meant that it could give pleasure and exercise indoors to youth of a class that, in towns and in those days of low wages and small subsidy for sport, enjoyed little enough outdoors of either.” (TYS, p. 220)

In an earlier book, he also touched on the same subject, “Table Tennis players usually belong to a different social class from Lawn Tennis players.  Table Tennis is chiefly played among those who cannot afford the high subscriptions necessitated by the premium on space for outdoor sport in modern industrial cities.  Such cannot devote a whole week to a tournament playing in one round each day.  Usually they can spare only an evening, playing five or six matches each in quick succession in that time, and Table Tennis tournaments are organized to provide for this.” (Table Tennis, 1936, pp. 47-48)        

The fascinating backstory is that Montagu himself came from an extremely wealthy family.  The patriarch of his family was Montagu Samuel, who later changed his name to Samuel Montagu.  As told by Ivor Montagu, “My grandfather was the second Jewish peer in Britain (Rothschild was the first).  Like his predecessor, he was a banker and rude people said he bought the title, first a baronetcy, then a barony.  Who knows?  Certainly he was widely celebrated for philanthropic exercises, no doubt there were the usual contributions to the party funds. ‘Political and public services’ it is ambiguously called.  When his name appeared in the honours list, there was the customary question of the title.  Courtesy demands that a new creation should not repeat the hallowed label of a predecessor without the latter’s consent.  My grandfather wrote to ask leave of his neighbor of a few miles away in the New Forest, the then Lord Montagu of Beaulieu.  Pat came the answer: ‘I have no objection to sharing my name with you, if you will share your money with me.’  So that was why my grandfather had to fall back upon calling himself Lord Swathling, taking this style from the village and railway station on the Old Southern Railway near his old country house at South Stoneham a few miles from Southampton.”  (TYS, p.20)

In 1911 the seeds of Ivor Montagu’s “political” thoughts were sown under a mulberry tree.  Montagu recalled, “I was about 7 years old.  My paternal grandfather [Lord Swathling, Samuel Montagu] had just died, and my mother, to whom the court dresses and the new ‘ladyship’ must have meant quite a novelty in her own life, called us three boys together for a talk under the mulberry tree.  I do not know what it meant to the others, but I extracted from it above all the stress that she laid upon the words ‘noblesse oblige’.  From now on we were to have the prefix ‘Hon.’ in front of our names and this meant a corresponding obligation to act more nobly and unselfishly than other people, to think of others and our duties to them before thinking of ourselves and what was ours.

“Did she mean it?  Surely.  What did it mean to her as a rule of life’s conduct?  I have no idea, or rather, I can make a shrewd guess: it meant to think of others but strictly within the framework of what was normal to one’s class and time.

“I took it seriously and without limitation.  How often is the old Adam, or even only thoughtlessness, too strong for what one should be aware one ought to do.  But thenceforward it was by this standard that, when I thought about them, I measured my deeds and those of others. (TYS, p. 117)

This talk under the mulberry tree also led him to the conclusion that “no goal could be adequate that did not embrace the whole of mankind, with no discrimination of nationality, race or colour.”  (TYS, p. 117)

Whatever the differences in their motivation, in both cases our first and current president have devoted themselves to the principles of universality (welcoming all) and solidarity (supporting all).

To boot, we’ve also learned why Ivor Montagu’s name is preceded by “Hon.,” as well as the reason behind why both the Swathling Cup and the Swathling Club are named in honor of the Montagu family.  

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