Day 20, August 12 - Didier Leroy Says It Takes “Real Passion” to Be a Competition Manager
“At the end of the WTTC’s, I am totally exhausted. But when Adham says, ‘I hope you will stay with the ITTF for a long time,’ I am directly ready for the next one.”
How did you become involved in table tennis?
I started to play at the age of 7. There was a club nearby my house. My father was playing there and was the coach of the young players. It was a small club with only 4 tables and there were a lot of players. It was not easy to get a table. Often my 2 elder brothers went back home when they didn’t get the chance to play. But I remember I was always staying there. I was “annoying” the best players of the club, asking them to play a few balls with me. I was also playing against the walls at home for hours.
I made quick improvements and got several titles in the Belgian Championships in mini-cadets, cadets and juniors. I remember clearly my first experience abroad when I was playing in the Kent International Open. Mr. Damman was the coach. He has always been a guide to me throughout my career as a player and as an official. I played 28 matches in 2 days, going from table to table. It still should be an international record. In 1977 in Vichy at the European Youth Championships, I lost in the quarterfinals in cadet singles.
At the senior level, I was Belgian champion in doubles as my best result at the same time I was managing my studies. I got a Master diploma in Biochemistry. I got 94 caps on the Belgian team and I am proud to have been part of the team that started the glorious years of table tennis in Belgium coming from position 42 in 1981 and reaching the final of the WTTC in 2001 for our best result.
What were your days like as the Belgian National Technical Director with Coach Wang Dayong and the Saive brothers? What kind of responsibilities did you have?
At the end of my international playing career I passed the exams to be a coach. As table tennis was growing very quickly, I became assistant to the technical director first and then the technical director in 1993. I started to professionalize the association. I was pushing the officials as much as I could. I was in charge of all the programs from the youth team to the senior team.
I had a lot of responsibilities and the pressure was very high as there were many live TV broadcasts of the national team matches, all the media were following the team and there were more than 5,000 spectators at the important matches.
I was also involved in the preparation of the matches in terms of the different tactics and strategies. It was not always easy to select the players. I was watching and studying the videos of our opponents. I have always been interested in tactics during a match. During the WTTC’s in 2001 in Osaka when Belgium reached the final against China, I was very proud of being a skilled strategist as we never played two times with the same team until the semifinals. Everything had worked perfectly. Back home afterwards it was a great honor to be received by King Albert II of Belgium in his palace.
How were you selected to replace Zlatko Cordas as ITTF Competition Manager when he moved to Qatar?
I remember that in January 2003 at the first tournament of the year, the Croatia Open, I was complaining to President Adham Sharara in the capacity of my position as technical director of Belgium that we didn’t get any information about this competition. At that time Adham mentioned that Zlatko Cordas would be leaving the ITTF and that a course would be organized for competition managers. I decided to participate in the course and, after several tests, I was selected.
I have learned a lot from Zlatko about the position and about management. Nowadays I have managed more than 100 competitions as Competition Manager but I still enjoy and learn from every tournament.
What advice would you give to someone who is aspiring to serve in this capacity?
I would advise that to do this job you need to like table tennis more than 100% and not view it like a regular job. Otherwise you will not survive. It should be a real passion. The communication and the way of communication is essential. Everybody involved in the competition is important and you need to treat everybody equally. It doesn’t matter if it is players, coaches, referees, umpires, organizers, helpers, or volunteers. Everybody is part of the success of the event.
When I am teaching the new Assigned Competition Managers I always tell them, “When you think there is nothing else to do, there is always something to do. Never wait until the last minute to prepare. Always anticipate all possible situations. Your brain can never be in standby mode. Another important thing is to always control yourself. Never show that something is going wrong in front of people. Always try to resolve all problems behind the curtains.”
President Sharara mentioned to me that you are always the Competition Manager for the World Championships. What are the main objectives that you are concerned about achieving for the ITTF at the WTTC’s?
I have been Competition Manager for the last 10 years. The last two, 2013 in France and 2014 in Japan, were very special since I competed at Bercy in Paris before my last European Championships and at Yoyogi in Tokyo at one of my first World Championships.
The main objectives are to plan together with my ITTF colleagues and the organizers everything well in advance to deliver a successful event. The inspection visits before the event are very important to get familiar with the venues, to decide the best possible lay-outs and study all the detailed logistics needed in all areas.
My duties are wide, starting with the preparation of the online entries with the associations, the coordination of the visa procedure with the organizers, the accommodation and transport system, and the preparation of the time schedule. I help all associations. It doesn’t matter if they are big or small. I am especially happy when I get compliments from the ones I help.
Also an important responsibility is the presentation of the event onsite. Over the last few years we have made tremendous steps in that area. I am very happy to see that all players, referees, umpires and organizers are engaged and enjoy the progress.
Just an example about the way of improvement in that part: In my first WTTC’s as Competition Manager, I was the one bringing some CD’s onsite to play music and entertain the spectators. Now we are doing rehearsals on how to present the best event.
At the end of the WTTC’s, I am totally exhausted. But when Adham says, “I hope you will stay with the ITTF for a long time,” I am directly ready for the next one.
I understand that you have also taken a special interest in the World Tour. Can you comment on that?
I am always interested to find new ideas to develop our World Tour concept. I am always very happy when we have new motivated organizers. I have been the one pushing to introduce different tiers in the Tour.
We have now 3 Tiers: Super Series, Major and Challenge. Two years ago we started with the Challenge and we had 7 events. In 2015 we will have already 13. I am sure we can still increase the number of World Tour events. We need to communicate and inform the potential organizers better and increase organizations in some continents.
In each Tier there are ways for development. In the Super Series we need to deliver the best possible presentations, attract the best players and a lot of spectators and TV coverage. The Major Series should be a mix of the Super Series and Challenge. The Challenge Series are very important for the young players. They need to play a lot of matches to get experience.
I really hope that we will be able to go for the next level. To be in the Top 5, the evolution of the World Tour competitions is a must.
Speaking of which, what do you think it will take to get TT into the TOP 5 IN ALL WE DO?
I think it’s possible to be in the Top 5 in all we do since we have many experts in different areas to reach this target. Motivation is the key factor for success. The planning, the communication, the presentation, and the participation are important points that should be developed. I hope several working groups will be created in the different areas.
Do you have some observations to share about the changes and progress made under Adham Sharara’s presidency?
All the technical changes have been already mentioned. Despite some criticism, all the changes were positive for our sport. He has been the key person in the professionalization of our sport.
I would like for my part to mention the human personality and sensitivity of Adham. I will never forget our visit together in Zagreb after the tragic accident of Sandra Paovic. It was an emotional moment for both of us. She showed us a very big lesson of courage.