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

By Sheri Cioroslan | Aug. 01, 2014, 9 a.m. (ET)

Day 31, August 1 -Tony Kiesenhofer Has Ideas for the ITTF’s “Top 5 in All We Do” Initiative

“Many who share this vision are now enthusiastically working towards improving our sport even further.”

Tony KiesenhoferToday marks the beginning of the final month of the Countdown series.  On September 1, ITTF President Adham Sharara’s resignation becomes effective as he takes on the role of the ITTF’s newly-designated post of AGM Chair.  ITTF Deputy President Thomas Weikert will become the ITTF’s seventh president in its 88-year history.  Bruce Burton will vacate his Continental President position to join the ITTF’s Executive Committee.  And fellow Canadian Tony Kiesenhofer will be the new North American Continental President.

Today the Countdown visits with Tony about his background as well as his plans and visions.

How did you get into table tennis?

I started playing rather late in Austria, in a church basement, at age 13. After a number of years, a club offered me a spot on a team to play in Austria’s second division and I accepted.  This was in the mid-70s.

When I came to Canada in the mid-80s, I started playing again after a few years’ break. Off and on I tried to find places to play; but it was not as easy at the time as it is now in Canada.

Then in 1991 I moved to Montreal, where there was a vibrant table tennis scene and a well-functioning provincial table tennis association. I got a chance to volunteer for a couple of events and got back into playing. I have been close to table tennis ever since.

On September 1, you will become the Continental President of North America.  What are your ideas and/or plans in regard to the ITTF’s initiative to be in the TOP 5 IN ALL WE DO?

Despite the current explosion of table tennis in North America, there is still a long road ahead for our continent to catch up with Europe and Asia. I am not only talking about the level of play. In North America, we are missing an infrastructure – a club system, a league structure – that systematically offers young players a path to the international level.

We have made some progress over the last few years with young players.  ITTF programs such as the Junior Circuit, World Cadet Challenge and the Hopes program have all contributed to this.

There are a few steps that I would like us to take:

-          to become a regular stop on the ITTF World Tour. This will provide our players access to the highest level of competition and with some help (from TMS and others), provide a product that we can sell to sponsors and TV;

-          to improve the ITTF North America Cup and the Championships in terms of presentation and promotion;

-          to work towards a professional table tennis league. To start, we may explore to become a “farm team” operation of, say, the Chinese Super League and/or the German Bundesliga, in North America; then we will see where we can move from there;

-          or, if we cannot get the interest from one or two of the major table tennis leagues, to explore a more modest start with North American teams. It is important that such a league serve the player development of North American players and one (or more) of President Sharara’s “P”s – Promotion, Popularity, Profit Financing; and finally

-          to continue the discussions with our Latin American friends to find more opportunities to compete against each other in events that we can make attractive for sponsors and television, and that serve the development of our players – and again, this would strengthen the promotion of table tennis on our continent.

As a close friend and supporter of ITTF President Adham Sharara, can you add some new reflections about the impact he has had on the development and professionalization of our sport?

Much has been said already and forgive me if I touch on things that have already been said.

From the very beginning of his involvement with the ITTF, Adham read the signs of where sport was headed. Sport moved to the professional arena in all of its parts. The drama of competition became the focus of the media and was present in the living rooms of millions of people, but table tennis was missing from the line-up. In order to participate in this development, table tennis had to change in how we presented our sport to the world.

Whether it was the introduction of the Pro Tour, the new look of a table tennis court with special flooring, the challenge Adham launched to the table tennis companies which resulted in beautifully designed tables, the (slightly) bigger ball, or the games to 11 – all of these changes came under Adham’s presidency and they are responsible for table tennis moving up in the rankings of summer sports in the Olympics.

If today we talk about being in the “Top 5 in All We Do,” it is a challenge that Adham launched based on the previous achievements.

And, because of the strength of his ideas and vision, he has found many who share this vision and are now enthusiastically working towards improving our sport even further.

Hand-in-hand with the professionalization of our sport, Adham understands the power of sport for social development and engagement. (ITTF Senior VP Khalil Al-Mohannadi gave a nice example on Day 43 about the participation of women in the Qatar Open.)

Adham’s push towards development, education and training in places where table tennis barely existed or has a weak infrastructure, in war torn areas, and in places where people are forced to live in poverty has been so convincing (and successful) because of his genuine belief that sport can make a difference in the lives of people.

What is more, I think Adham is convinced that the development activities have a positive impact not only on the people they touch but on our sport now, and in the future – an “investment,” in the best sense of the word.

I hope Chairman Sharara will stick around table tennis for a while longer; table tennis is better off with his challenges!

Thank you, Tony, for your insights and plans.  Best wishes to you as you move into the position of North American Continental President on September 1.