29-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency
Day 29, August 3 - Karl Jindrak Draws on Playing Days to Improve Competitions
“I can bring all of the experience from my table tennis career as a player to my job now.”
How did you develop an interest in the sport?
When Werner Schlager and I became more and more successful and more and more famous in our small country Austria, we initiated a real “Table Tennis boom.” We inflamed Table Tennis in our country from nearly “zero” awareness to be one of the most interesting “smaller” sports in our country.
Austria is a skiing nation, and of course Football (Soccer) is always interesting for the people. But something changed when we had a number of successes in 1996. We won the English Open (Kettering by beating 3 World Champions in a row), we won the U.S. Open (Fort Lauderdale), and we won the Australian Open (Brisbane) in the same year. We were from one day to the other, for the Austrian press, very interesting and everyone wanted to interview us.
We appeared on different TV Shows. We were featured in our Sports Illustrated and sports news. And the journalists “made” us one of the favorites to win a medal at the Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996. There was huge pressure on us, which was a new experience for us. But I think we gave in Austria a huge “push” to Table Tennis.
In my work for the ITTF now, I use all this experience to help our sport be more known worldwide. It is a huge responsibility for all of us to develop our sport and to give it the right “touches” to make it more famous and more interesting worldwide for all: for the people who play our sport, for the people who watch our sport, for the sponsors, and for our TV rights’ holders.
It is an exciting way to live. And I am more than happy and proud to be part of ITTF and to be part of this challenge to make our sport more attractive and more famous than it is now.
I was somehow part of the development of the Pro Tour/World Tour from the very beginning as a player. The Pro Tour started in 1996. I, as a player, used this new circuit to get experience against other players from different countries and continents and to climb up the World Ranking list. I saw all these developments in the World Tour year-by-year. At the beginning we played in any venue with a wooden floor or sometimes on a colored synthetic floor. There were not enough lights. Or, sometimes, daylight came into the venue. Then, year-by-year, there were improvements.
- Prize money was growing every year.
- Playing conditions improved every year; at every tournament we could see some improvements from the last competition.
- With Zlatko Cordas serving in the new position as Competition Manager of the Pro Tour, we players had one person to talk with and to go to if there were any kinds of problems. This new position raised the level of the World Tour.
- Gerflor flooring became obligatory. As players, we started to be able to rely on the playing conditions that we could expect at each World Tour. And this helped us to prepare for each tournament as well.
- The year 2000 was a “big change” year for us players. We moved from the 38-mm ball to the 40-mm ball and then a half year later, we played under a new scoring system. At the beginning all of these were huge changes and we thought it was not good for our sport. But we adapted very fast. We all saw that it helped us to make our sport even more interesting for spectators, TV and the media.
And all these changes were initiated by one person: Adham Sharara. He did for Table Tennis many fantastic things and those changes brought Table Tennis for all of us to another level.
What did your days look like as a professional player?
It is already some years ago when I was a professional player, but I will try to remember. J
I stopped my professional career as reigning European Champion in Doubles, with Werner Schlager, in December of 2005. My last international tournament was the World Tour Grand Finals (which, at that time, were called the Pro Tour Grand Finals). I qualified for the Grand Finals 10 times in a row, including from the very beginning. The 1st World Tour Grand Finals took place in 1996 in Tianjin (CHN), so I qualified for all Grand Finals until 2005, and 2005 was my last.
Now it is nearly 9 years ago when I stopped playing professionally. You can see evidence of that immediately when you meet me! J
To answer your question, during my days as a professional player, my schedule looked like this:
- 6:30 wake up
- 7:20 meeting at our Sports army to give them our daily training program so that they would know where and when we are there
- 9:30 – 12:00 practice session 1
- 12:00 – 15:00 lunch and rest
- 15:30 – 18:00 practice session 2
- 18:30 dinner
- 19:30 – 21:30 physical workout in the gym
- 22:30 “lights off”
This was a sample of my “daily routine” when I was a professional player.
The funny thing is when I was a player I thought, “Life is really hard for us. Wake up at 6:30. Practice two times a day for 2½ hours each session. Then lunch and ‘ordered’ rest! I actually have to sleep during the break. In the evening, I have to go to the gym to do my fitness training.”
I thought it was really a hard life for all of us. But, if I compare my previous life as a professional Table Tennis player to now, working for the ITTF as Competition Director, when I think back, that life was like 365 days a year a HOLIDAY!!
Don’t get me wrong. I still enjoy my life. I enjoy my new job 100%. And I appreciate it a lot that I could stay with my sport after my professional career. I can bring all of the experience from my table tennis career as a player to my job now.
What kind of interaction do you have with your former doubles partner, Werner Schlager?
I am still in contact with Werner. I have an office in the Werner Schlager Academy where our paths cross each other in the building. We often chat together over a cup of coffee in my office or in his office. We have had some ITTF tournaments at his Academy and there we worked together as well.
But we both agree 100%: As players, we were “on HOLIDAYS the whole year” compared to now. He is working at the Werner Schlager Academy and I am working for the ITTF. But we both consider ourselves super lucky that we could stay working within our sport after our active careers as professional players.
You were competing when Zlatko Cordas took on the position of ITTF Competition Manager. How swiftly did you see improvements and changes? Personally I always feel that he made a huge impact on the presentation and “feel” of our sport.
Zlatko Cordas was very important for us as players because from one day to the other we all had someone we could go to talk to about any kind of problems we had. He immediately tried to solve them or to improve the situation, and you could be sure this problem would not happen again at any other tournament. He improved many things on the World Tour and all the players trusted him and listened to him. This position was very important to raise the level for our top players and for the professional tour.
Regarding the pace of your schedule nowadays, how much time are you spending on the road versus at home and do you enjoy the level of your travel commitment?
I am traveling quite a lot, but this is part of my job. I don’t count how many days or weeks I am “on the road,” but I am traveling for sure 5-6 times “around the world” every year.
I have a big family, with 3 children. Sometimes it is hard to be away so long, especially when I have 2 or 3 tournaments in a row or go to World Championships, where we are always there at least 10 days in advance. But the new technology helps a lot to stay in touch with them via Skype or FaceTime.
What is the relationship between the needs of the Competitions staff and TMS/ITTF Marketing? Are the two departments usually in sync or are there sometimes compromises that have to be made one way or the other?
We try to work together as closely as possible. It is very important for us to communicate with each other about our goals and ideas and, from that, to make any necessary changes in the competition structure or playing system. In the end, together we find the best “product” for all: for the players, for the TV rights’ holders, for the media, and for the spectators so that everyone will be satisfied and so that we can sell this product in the best possible way.
So this cooperation between TMS / the ITTF Marketing and Competition Departments is very close. This cooperation works very well.
As a former player, do you find yourself advocating for the best interests of the players?
This is an interesting question because I have been on “both sides of the table.” I was a professional player and now I am part of the organization. I see many things with different eyes than before when I was a player. To be honest, at the very beginning of my time working for the ITTF, I was looking into too many things and problems during a tournament with the eyes of a professional player. It was not the best way to solve things. The longer I worked for the ITTF, the more I saw the “other side of the table.”
I got a better feeling about how to judge some problems on site and I can tell you the result was not always in the best interests of the players because sometimes what was requested was simply not possible. My experience as a former player helps me a lot to make the correct decisions in the best interest of the players, but still I keep at least one eye on the organizers’ side to help them solve problems as well.
When I was a player, for me there were four things that had to be good and that were important at a tournament:
- Playing conditions (venue and practice hall);
- The bed in the hotel; and
Other things were not as important for me as a player. I lived maybe in a “small and simple world” when I was a player, but this was my focus. I could count on a 100% performance at tournaments when those needs were met.
Now that I am on the other side, the organizers’ side, there are many other important things that need to be thought about or need to be solved. So the world is not that simple anymore. When I was a player, I was responsible for one person, myself. Now I am responsible at big World Tour tournaments for up to 400 players inside the venue and millions of TV viewers. So I have to make sure that the TV production issues are being handled and that all is running smoothly. That is a big responsibility.
You have 5 full-time staff, including yourself in the Competition Program. This seems to be an area that might have expansion possibilities since you are also adding Assigned Competition Managers. What advice would you give to someone who is aspiring to serve in this capacity?
To keep it simple, there are only two things:
- You need to love Table Tennis and
- You should not expect that your working day will stop at 5:00 pm on Fridays.
How has the rollout of the ITTF Results Management System worked out so far?
Since 2009 we are working on our ITTF Results Management System, but there are still a lot of things to do. As we are all very busy and the responsible people are living in different parts of the world, it takes time to finish all these things. But we are on the right track, I think.
This might be a question more related to the Rules Committee, but, if you would address this please: do you see in the foreseeable future, the adoption of slo-mo (slow motion) replay to enable umpires to review disputed calls?
If we find a good technical way and we are able with this technology to give some help to the umpires to make the right decisions, then why not? I think it doesn’t need to be only slo-mo. There are many other technical possibilities that could maybe assist umpires in making the right calls. I think the job of an umpire is not so easy with our very fast sport. Any technical help we could offer to the umpires would make them maybe more “relaxed” and more comfortable in making decisions.
Have you been inspired to contribute ideas to the P5 plan? If so, what were some of your thoughts?
I think all our staff are working nearly 24 hours a day to give their input to improve things in our sport and to “climb up the stairs” toward our goal to bring Table Tennis as high as possible.
Do you have some strategies to attract more spectators and fans to watch matches, what you have called “improving the local and general promotion of our events?”
Promotion, Promotion, Promotion! It sounds simple, but this is the key for most of the organizers to bring spectators into the venues. Sometimes at some tournaments, the promotion of the event is nearly “zero.”
We also need to find a way to entertain the spectators once they enter the venue until they leave the venue.
Whenever I have the chance to watch an NBA game, I always think: “It is a 4-hour show with a little bit of Basketball in-between.” I think we should find some ways to entertain the spectators with other things as well and not only with Table Tennis.
Sounds, Lights, Music could be a start.
Karl, thank you very much for sharing your observations from your playing days as well as in your professional capacity. It’s clear that you try to balance the wants and needs of the players with the organizers’ interests too. No “HOLIDAY” there!