70-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency
Day 70, June 23 - Adham Sharara Discusses the ITTF’s Commitment to Peace and Sport
“I hope that the ITTF continues to be a leader in promoting Peace through Sport.”
Yesterday we left off with your reflections of the impact Ping Pong Diplomacy had on you. That was all very interesting, something I’m sure many of even your closest friends weren’t aware of. Ironically, speaking of sports diplomacy, in a previous interview you mentioned that you are a diplomat, not a politician. It strikes me that one of your main concerns around every one of your elections was for there be peace in the ITTF, regardless of the outcome. Is that an example of being “a diplomat, not a politician”?
Yes, it is one example. I don’t like confrontations and I don’t like any action that may divide the ITTF, even elections. So, in general I try to “smoothe” things over and try to lead by consensus.
I did repeat that I am not a politician, but within the ITTF many consider me a politician, mainly because they do not understand the difference between being a politician and being a diplomat. It is rather simple, and a big difference. A Politician achieves the objective through “trading”, “give and take” and through accepting to give benefits in return for an agreement. If it is done in a clean way and above board there is nothing wrong with that. A good politician can make a very good president. A Diplomat on the other hand will achieve the objective by “convincing”, “explaining” and accepting compromises.
Usually a good diplomat may not make a good president, unless he or she has other strong leadership qualities, a good vision and is not afraid of hard work. There have been some situations where I had to act as a politician and trade for a good result for the ITTF. So I have done it, but I really don’t like that. I much prefer win-win diplomatic solutions.
Today is Olympic Day, so let’s move on to the broader issues of the ITTF’s commitment to “Peace and Sport.” As ITTF President you have supported several PEACE initiatives, with the largest one being the 2011 Peace and Sport Cup in Qatar. Can you summarize how that event was conceptualized?
At least 3 years before that event, Mr. Han San Kook of Korea, who served as an EC member from 2000 to 2005, encouraged me to revive the “Two Koreas Joint Team” that competed at the 1991 WTTC in Chiba, due to the great efforts of then ITTF President Ogimura. I had already tried several times to repeat the Joint Team experience, but every time we thought we succeeded, at the last moment it would not work out. I was very disappointed in 2009 when again this idea did not pan out. But Mr. Han, and some other friends in Korea kept encouraging me to try.
This is when I thought that perhaps the World Championships is not the best way to make this happen, and instead we could have a stand-alone event. Together with Mr. Han and with the President of the Korea TTA who is also the Chairman of Korea Air, Mr. CHO Yang-Ho, we worked together to establish a special event at which the two Koreas could play as one unified team.
I proposed this idea to Mr. Joël Bouzou, president of “Peace & Sport” and he liked the idea very much. After two visits to Pyongyang in the DPR-Korea, one time with Mr. Bouzou, we finally had the approval from the DPR-Korea.
I must say that the table tennis associations of both Koreas accepted the idea immediately. It was then a question of getting government approval. This took a long time. But finally the agreement was reached and we decided to have a new and unique event. We paired athletes from countries that had adversity in the past, or even in the present, and convinced them to play together as joint teams (India-Pakistan, USA-Russia, DPR Korea-Korea Republic), plus a variety of teams such as France-Japan and China-Qatar to complete the field. We refer to this successful peace initiative as “Ping-Pong Diplomacy - Version 2”. The Qatar TTA and the Qatar government were very interested in hosting this event, which they did at a very high level.
Here are the links to the event:
What are some of the other ITTF PEACE initiatives you are most proud of?
The ITTF is always one of the first International Federations to step into war torn areas and use Table Tennis as a vehicle for peace and rehabilitation. We were the first to do a coaching course in Iraq after the war, also in Afghanistan with the help of the IOC. We were the first in East Timor with Ping Pong Peace.
Our development program focuses a lot on peace initiatives. In fact, we won several awards due to our peace initiatives, which have included Palestine refugee camps, the two Congos, Burundi, and many more.
We should not forget that the ITTF was the first IF to recognize and admit for membership a non-apartheid table tennis association in South Africa during the apartheid era of that country.
This being the Olympic Day, I also applaud the efforts of the IOC in using sport as a vehicle for peace. There was a time when “Olympic Truce” meant that all wars would take a break and cease-fire during the Olympic Games. During the period of the ancient Games, the competitors were actually the warriors, so there was a truce to allow the competitors to face each other in a peaceful competition.
Nowadays, unfortunately, the Olympic Truce is neglected. My dream is that once the Olympic Games start, all ongoing wars would automatically stop and spend the 2 weeks of the Olympic Games to find a diplomatic solution. Maybe one day it will happen.
In the P5 plan that you will be presenting later this year do you expect PEACE initiatives to continue to be a high priority for the ITTF?
Yes, for sure. Our development program is very much focused on peace initiatives. In fact, one of my goals is to have a friendly match between warring nations at the United Nations, within the circle of the Security Council. As you know that was done before in the form of an exhibition between Chinese and American players in 1972. My vision is to see countries that are at war, or that have serious diplomatic problems, to play a friendly game of Ping-Pong for the whole world to see. Ping-Pong Diplomacy V3.
You mentioned in your report to the AGM that you received the honor of being invited to speak at the United Nations addressing “Sport for Peace and Development.” Can you elaborate on that?
Yes, this was an honor, but as I said, who wants to listen to an IF president speak, it is much better to watch a game of table tennis right smack in the middle of the Security Council at the United Nations between countries with a serious conflict. This would be the first step towards peace between the countries in conflict. Let’s get them together for a game of Ping-Pong and start a dialogue about peace.
Thank you very much for sharing your views on peace and sport.
You are welcome, and I hope that the ITTF continues to be a leader in promoting Peace through Sport.