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

By Sheri Cioroslan | Aug. 07, 2014, 7 a.m. (ET)

Day 25, August 7 - Alison Burchell Hopes to See the ITTF Become the Best Integrated IF

“While Para TT learns from the able-bodied side, so the able-bodied side learns in some respects from Para TT.”

Heading up the ITTF’s Operations Program, you, among all of the ITTF staff, seem to have the most diverse set of responsibilities.  You take care of administrative matters, the AGM and other meetings, finance, anti-doping, the WTTC’s, and several of the ITTF committees. 

Yes, it keeps me on my toes!

Alison BurchellLet’s start with the area that is dearest to your heart, which I believe is Para TT. 

PTT is perhaps the aspect with which I am most associated, but the other work is just as important.

How did you get involved in the sport, and specifically Para TT? 

I always say, “By mistake!”  I was sitting in my office (working for the NPC of South Africa) when a colleague came and pulled me out to umpire in an international PTT event we were hosting.  I had a 30-second rundown of the rule changes since I played and went to umpire (and ended up with swollen eyes as I was not used to following the ball at speed). 

After that, we were persuaded to host the 1999 Africa-Middle East Table Tennis Championships by Christian Lillieroos, the then-chairperson of IPTTC.  In effect, this led to me being invited to become the Secretary General of IPTTC in 2001 when Margit Beckmann resigned after the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games. And the rest, as we say, is history!

How did your responsibility change regarding Para TT after you were hired full-time by the ITTF? 

I think the greatest change was being part of the ITTF team and being able to move forward on a number of issues fairly quickly, particularly with an integrated approach to working in development.  My duties probably expanded, as I have taken the view that I should take the load off the volunteers as much as possible. So my being full-time, with other responsibilities, allowed PTT to develop more quickly than we would otherwise have been able to do.

What are the latest developments for Para TT in the ITTF? 

With the integration process taking place at the national level, noting that this has not happened equally across the world, we have seen an increase in the standard of competitions, particularly in the area of presentation and media, where the event is organised by the national association.  This has been great to see. 

Thanks to Steve Dainton and Double Happiness, we have seen our first equipment sponsorship for the 2013 PTT Asian Championships and the 2014 PTT World Championships and we hope this will set the tone for the future. 

We have changed from an outdated ranking system to a rating system that continues to develop to meet the particular needs of PTT and to measure quality of the players versus the quantity of the number of tournaments in which players used to compete. 

We began an integrated approach to planning for the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2009, which is a huge step forward, as is the inclusion of a PTT player on the ITTF Athletes’ Commission.  While PTT learns from the able-bodied side, so the able-bodied side learns in some respects from PTT.

How do you see the future of Para TT in the ITTF and what are your personal goals in this area? 

The goals of the PTT Division are to provide an appropriate number of tournaments of a high quality for the players and to mirror more closely the World Tour in meeting the requirements for streaming, TV coverage, hopefully prize money at some point, as well as contributions to the organisers. 

Increasingly it is also becoming obvious that improving the quality of events is linked to the support provided by the national associations and we hope therefore that more associations will give real meaning to “One Sport, One Family” and take on the responsibility of managing Para Table Tennis at the national level.  We recognise that there are some challenges to achieving this but together with the national associations and our continental federations and other support mechanisms (i.e. colleagues on the ITTF staff), we hope to become the best integrated IF!!!  This will all contribute to the line that says, “We may not be able to compete against you but we can compete with you,” as we give equal recognition to the abilities of our Para players.

What role do you see Para TT taking in the TOP FIVE IN ALL WE DO initiative? 

To a large extent, PTT is an untapped market.  The recent coverage of Ibrabim Hamato is an indication of how we can use Table Tennis to challenge the stereotypes of disability so that we actually look at the ability.  Another good example is David Wetherill during the 2012 London Paralympic Games – at least with 6,45million views, a number of other people think so: We should promote integration and try to set an example to other sports, while also learning from them, on how to move towards complete integration so that players are recognised for their abilities.  In this way, we can contribute to changing society as a whole. 

In the same way as we are aiming to move into the top 5 in Olympic sports, we also need to consider how we do this in the Paralympic Movement where we have made a significant impact over the years.  So improving tournaments, media coverage, being top of mind, treating all athletes equally while also making a contribution to the Olympic and Paralympic Movements seems to be the way to go.

What are some interesting P5 proposals you have heard related to Para TT? 

Integration and equity as well as using PTT as a value added concept in all we do.  Other aspects include getting PTT on to the programmes for the various continental games that happen particularly when they are qualifiers for the Paralympic Games, i.e., the 2015 Para Pan Am Games with the Pan Am Games, the 2015 All Africa Games as well as getting PTT back on to the Commonwealth Games programme for 2018.  In order to do this, we need to extend our influence in all continental sports organisations.

When asked to name the biggest contributions President Sharara has made to our sport, most people have mentioned rule changes, marketing, and presentation.  What about in the area of Para TT, what has been President Sharara’s influence? 

I recall the president attending a PTT meeting in Beijing during the 2008 Paralympic Games where he said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Adham has allowed PTT to develop and recently has taken the initiative to give more direct guidance to bring PTT closer to the regular ITTF way, for example, by ensuring that PTT recognises the participation of PTT players in World Tour and Junior Circuit events.  Over and above that, as Adham said in Tokyo, “Integration is the only way to go.”

Thank you for that report on Para TT.  Let’s just touch base on a couple other of your areas of responsibility.  Regarding anti-doping, many of us are proud about the “drug-free” reputation of our athletes.  Is that still the case? 

Generally, yes although we must never rest in the fight against doping.  While we have relatively few positive cases at an ITTF level, there are several at the national level which indicates perhaps the need for better education.  With WADA’s rule of strict liability (a player is responsible for whatever goes into his or her body), players need to be very careful about medications prescribed by their medical practitioners and must alert them to the prohibited list.

With the nature of table tennis combining strength and finesse, it seems that there is a view that taking prohibited substances does not make sense but presently we do not have in place proof that taking prohibited substances will have a negative impact on the finesse aspect of the game – if we had such research, it would probably add significant value to our education and prevention programme.

It seems everyone is always eager to hear any news about the ITTF Museum and its expected move to Shanghai.  What is the latest status?

Good question!  The process is ongoing but we hope that by the end of the year, finality will have been achieved.  Having the Museum in Shanghai will add substantially to the value and image of the ITTF with the number of visitors increasing exponentially.

In the meanwhile, the space that formerly was dedicated to the ITTF Museum has been rented?  What about the remaining space, what might be called the renovated caretaker’s house, has the ITTF found a tenant for that?

The majority of the space previously used by the Museum has been rented to a project management company, which has been incredibly beneficial as we have cooperated with them in upgrading the space. It will be a great help as we move to renovate the exterior of the whole building next year.

Thank you, Alison, especially for the Para TT update.  May the ITTF reach the goal of becoming the best integrated IF.

I could not agree more!  There are challenges – some Governments decree that disability stays with the NPC, some NPCs do not want to lose TT, some associations do not want to take on PTT, some associations want PTT because then they get more money which may not be used for PTT, and some NPCs think that, like the NOC, they should have national federations affiliated so are starting up PTT associations with that in mind.