Day 18, August 14 - 1953 World Champion Ferenc Sido Inspired Judit Farago
“I was at the right place at the right time because my professional career coincided with a change in mentality in roles for women.”
You’ve pretty much devoted your professional life to table tennis. Can you tell us how it all began?
Ever since I remember, I was always interested in sports. I know it is not typical for a girl and also no one in my family had a history in sports. I tried and played all kinds of sports. In the courtyard of our apartment house we had an old ping-pong table, where all the kids had some fun when weather allowed us to be outside. This is how it started, and my father took me to a club when I was about 10-12 years old.
At that time table tennis was one of the most popular sports in Hungary, with a long history. There were several European champions and a successful period that led to the Golden Era of our Men’s Team, which finally became World Champions in 1979 in Pyongyang beating China twice during the competition.
I was a competitive player for about 20 years, but I was never selected to the national team. My best result was winning five medals at the National Closed Championships and playing two finals in the European Club Competitions in the 80s. My best national ranking was 13th, which is not bad knowing that Hungary had several active European champions at that time in the women’s field.
To be very frank, I never had a dream to become a big champion. I loved to be a competitor, but I did not devote as much time to the sport as the professionals did. I was very proud and satisfied to play at one of the most prestigious clubs in Hungary, Spartacus Budapest, with our great champion, Ferenc Sido as manager of the club and practicing in the same hall with Tibor Klampar, Istvan Jonyer and the other big stars.
At that time I could hardly imagine that one day, in 1996, the Hungarian TTA would decide to put forward my nomination for an international position as a follower of my former idol, Mr. Sido.
How many years passed from when you were a junior player until you became the Hungary TTA General Secretary?
After finishing my studies at the University for Foreign Trade – where I took the highest state degree in English and in Russian languages – I played few years as a professional in the National League.
As I always was interested and followed all sports, I started to work at the Hungarian News Agency (MTI) as a sports journalist in 1990. I spent four years there. It was a very useful and enjoyable period. I attended several events in different sports as a reporter. I attended two Winter Olympics, world and continental title events in shooting, gymnastics, tennis, and even the Chess Olympiad. However, I did not have any free weekends due to the heavy schedule in sports, so I wanted to have a job with a more regular working schedule.
That is how I returned to table tennis. The Hungarian TTA was looking for a half-time Secretary for International Relations, for which I applied and got in 1994. Since our General Secretary retired soon afterwards, I was nominated for this position in 1997. I then held that post until 2008 when I was hired by the ITTF.
So very soon again I was back full-time, again busy every weekend. I am extremely lucky that my husband – who is a dentist, by the way – is the greatest sports fan and expert, so he always accepted and supported that weekends are the busiest in this kind of profession. Not too much change since then.
I understand that you were heavily involved in the operations of the Hungarian Open tournaments, which gave you a strong background in competition management.
The 12 years I worked as General Secretary gave me a full knowledge of the needs of a National Association. That proved to be very useful to better understand and communicate with members in my capacity as a representative of the ITTF. Also I could benefit a lot from being the organizer of international events, like the European Youth Championships in 2004 and the Final World Olympic Qualification in 2008 in Budapest.
I’d like to remark that President Sharara took a bold stance, say, around the turn of the millennium, and proclaimed that the ITTF would promote qualified women. Certainly there has been a noticeable change, seeing that policy implemented. What were your thoughts about this matter when it was first articulated, and, over a decade later, what are your thoughts now?
Yes, it was raised at around 2000 and the policy became reality in 2003 when the Executive Committee was enlarged to 7 persons with the condition to introduce a woman to the position for the first 2-year term. This was the period when the IOC started a real awareness program to encourage an increase of women in sport, especially the number of officials in decision making bodies. Adham was and is always open-minded and he was a great supporter of this movement, not only this one, but also few years later, he supported making prize money for women equal to men’s in table tennis.
As regards me personally, I feel I was at the right place at the right time because my professional career coincided with a change in mentality in roles for women, both in the Hungarian society and in international sport. At that time in several positions I became the “first- ever woman”: Hungarian News Agency – first female journalist at the Sport Department; Hungarian TTA – first female General Secretary; Hungarian Olympic Committee – first female Executive Board member; and the ITTF – first female Executive Vice President.
How much was the merit and how much the fortune? Anyone has to judge it. Many people disagree with the quota system for women. I say: when you start from zero, you have to give this first opportunity to open the door for women, and it is up to them if they “enter” or not. The ITTF was very clever under the leadership of Adham to give this chance, but only for one term, 2 years, saying that after that the EC positions are open to everyone. It was a very fair approach. I always emphasize at every forum that I could not achieve so much without the support of my male colleagues.
Can you tell us a little more about your election to the ITTF’s EC?
Prior to the 2003 election, I was already a member of the Board of Directors for 4 years and a Hungarian NOC Executive Board member since 2001. The Hungarian TTA had confidence to nominate me in 2003 after I was also on the ETTU Management Committee as Chairperson of the Youth Committee since 1996.
It was my greatest honor to be on the ITTF EC from 2003 to 2005 and then from 2006 to 2008.
Then you became the ITTF’s Competition Director?
Since ITTF activities – also the Competition Programme – were growing significantly and fast, Adham suggested to gradually re-structure the professional staff, and as a first step to create Departments for the main areas, first of all for competitions. The Director position was advertised and I felt that with my experience gained in sport, at a national association and in the ITTF EC, I could be a potential candidate.
It was a difficult decision for such a change: switching from national association to an international federation is a great challenge, with increased responsibility, but it was a big promotion and I felt I could contribute a lot to develop our sport by becoming a staff member after being an elected official.
I started my work for the ITTF in September of 2008, right after the Beijing Olympic Games.
Thank you, Judit. The Countdown will continue with you tomorrow, starting with how you became the ITTF’s CEO.