Day 12, August 20- Neil Harwood Reminds Us that We Are on the Big Stage with Other Sports
“Adham’s impact has been crucial in all areas and the sport is in a much better position as a result of his presidency.”
How did you develop your lifelong connection with table tennis?
I started playing socially in my mid-teens and enjoyed the sport with moderate success. As I improved I became hooked and, as well as playing, became involved in administration. With the passing of time I competed at the provincial level and also became interested in coaching which led to me being associated with the Australian National Team. My career as an administrator took a similar path, concurrently.
Under what circumstances did you first meet Adham Sharara?
My first recollection of meeting Adham was at the World Championships in Dortmund in 1989 where he was representing Canada at the AGM and I was representing Australia. At that time I was impressed both with his logic and his clarity of expression.
Later, you became the Competition Manager for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. It was the first Olympic Games for Adham as ITTF President. Do you have a special story or two to share about that?
Having been involved in three Olympic Games with the Australian Team I was selected for the position. This appointment was pivotal in my future involvement at the ITTF level. I had Olympic Games experience, but limited experience as a high-level tournament organiser. I had some ideas which Adham agreed with and he backed them politically with the Organising Committee. When Jordi Serra was appointed as the Technical Director he helped me with the technical matters of organization, but Adham was key in ensuring we got what we needed. We had many telephone discussions at peculiar hours during this period.
As time went on you “graduated” from Oceania’s Continental President (as the position is now known) to becoming a member of the Executive Committee. What inspired you to run for that position?
It was a logical progression. I had been very actively involved with both Olympic Games preparation and the education of umpires and referees for some years. I had the time and the passion.
Then you took on the role of Executive Vice-President -- Finances. What kind of progress did you see in that area? Which of your contributions gave you the most satisfaction?
When I first joined the Executive Board in the mid-1990s I recall that the ITTF income was approximately seventy-five percent from the IOC and twenty-five percent from marketing and equipment approvals. Now the situation is almost the reverse and we have a strong reserve fund to ensure our operations into the future. TV sales have been very strong and TMS must be complimented on this. Information Technologies, including live scoring, and TV streaming on the Net have been major successes and Adham has been crucial in these marketing areas.
Your very good friend Bruce Burton [Day 35] will become an Executive Committee member on September 1. What advice did you give him?
Bruce Burton does not need advice from me. He is a clear thinker and a very fair person with a strong view of the difference between right and wrong. He will be an asset at the EC level.
What are your ideas about how TT can achieve the goal of being in the TOP 5 IN ALL WE DO?
I believe we must continue to put on the very best show at both the Olympic and Paralympic Games, as we are on the big stage with other sports which want a bigger share of the action.
I hope that a way can be found to make the World Championships Finals stages a smaller and more elite event. A good qualification system, perhaps in a similar manner to FIFA World Cup qualification, may be the answer.
Para Table Tennis integration has started, but I feel that the ITTF must become more focused and take more control of the process.
World Veterans has a very successful World Championships, but I am sure that if the ITTF was more actively involved the event could grow in stature and be a revenue generator. There must always be a place for the Swaythling Club, but not necessarily controlling the World Veterans Championship event.
What are your reflections on the 15 years of the Sharara presidency?
During Adham’s presidency our financial base has been made more secure, competition opportunities have increased and we now have equal prize money for women. Our media and promotions area is using current technologies with great effect.
The administration of the ITTF is much more professional with staff working in the headquarters office in Lausanne, a Competition Department based in Vienna and a Marketing and Media office in Singapore. There are also staff working from their home bases.
All Continents are represented on the Executive Committee and there is a fair spread of continental representation on all committees.
From my perspective the greatest impact has been in the area of development as we now have strong competitions and opportunities in all areas of the world. We are at the top of the sporting list of member countries. We have a strong Development Department with development officers working in all continents. There is a strong relationship between the ITTF and the UN working with ‘Peace in Sport’ and this is recognized by the IOC and other organisations.
Adham’s impact has been crucial in all areas and the sport is in a much better position as a result of his presidency.