Day 7, Monday 25th August - Ivan Santos Ortega: We Must Create a Mystique about Table Tennis
“The completion of the P5-DBI project will consecrate Adham as the best leader in the ITTF’s history.”
How did you get started in the sport?
As a hobby during high school, I began playing Table Tennis with a wooden racket. In Puerto Rico this is better known as being a “Ping Pong Player.”
It was not until college that I started using a racket with sponge. I participated in an official tournament of the Puerto Rican Table Tennis Federation in 1975. After that experience I became motivated to practice daily and to improve my game.
That was the beginning of my career as an athlete that lasted for 14 years. During that time I won all Men’s, Men’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles national titles. For 11 years I was a member of the Puerto Rican National Team and competed in different international events.
It was during the 1979 Puerto Rico Pan-American Games that Adham Sharara and I first met. He was Canada’s National Coach and I was an athlete representing Puerto Rico.
In 1989 I decided to end my career as an athlete and I became the head coach of the national team until 1992. It was then that I had the privilege to be appointed President of the Puerto Rican Table Tennis Federation, the position that I hold until this day.
I’m grateful to be able to count on an excellent team to help me manage the federation. My wife Leticia Castaldo has joined me in this journey as Secretary General and we have always had the full support of Adham. Our Club Presidents, coaching staff, National Olympic Committee and the Recreation and Sport Government Department have worked accordingly to develop Table Tennis in Puerto Rico.
Progressively our young athletes are achieving excellent results at international events such as the Caribbean, Latin American and World Junior Championships. At these events we have been recognized and supported by a hard working group of people from the ITTF: Glenn Tepper, Mikael Andersson, Raul Calin, Judith Farago, Polona Cehovin Leandro Olvech, Zita Pidl, Dejan Papic, Ian Marshall and Steve Dainton among others as well as Latin American delegates: Oswaldo Papelon Borges, Melecio Rivera, Francisco Seijas, Carlos Esnard, Miguel Delgado, Juan Vila and Evelio Alvarez among others.
These results were the path to receive the support of Adham throughout Level I courses for coaches and umpires, Team Hopes scholarships and the Cadet Challenge and Junior Circuit Final celebration.
What kind of special relationship have you developed with ITTF President Sharara over the years? And what do you think will be his legacy?
I consider Adham Sharara to be an energetic revolutionary leader with a bright administrative vision. The significant changes and results of the ITTF during his 15 years in office are proof of this. However, Adham’s greatest contribution has been to promote inclusion and participation. Thomas Weikert and future leaders face a big challenge. They must relate, network and communicate with all the delegates from the 220 countries that compose our organization and treat them with the same importance, attention, consideration and above all passion that Adham has had in serving us all equally. Thomas Weikert will need to ensure the general well-being of table tennis while at the same time recognizing the individual merits of each and every one of the National Federations.
Adham has understood that each country has its own particular situation; he has listened and treated us with great sensitivity and understanding. With his empathy he has been responsive by standing in the position of each country’s difficulties and has provided mechanisms and tools to improve. This is the key factor that accounts for the almost unanimous approval he has attained. His inclusive management style is now a prerequisite for the ITTF Presidency. Adham has raised the bar for future ITTF leaders.
Adham must also be recognized for his ability to choose a team in such a way that even though there might have been some differences, they were able to remain loyal to their commitment of the development of Table Tennis in all aspects. As ITTF delegates we have all witnessed in our Annual General Meetings Adham’s simplicity of explaining in a concise and accurate manner any problem, and helping us have an effective decision making process.
I come from one of the smallest associations in the world and on the lower competitive range within our Latin American continent. I give Adham credit for his management style that brought greater inclusiveness and participation. That has given us a real opportunity to excel.
Our multiple achievements in recent years have been: Our men’s team came in first place of the Third Division at the last World Team Championships held in Tokyo and our Women’s Junior Team achieved the number 12 position at the last World Junior Championships in Morocco. Also Brian Afanador won a title in the Individual Cadet World Championship in Lignano, Italy. Our 13-year-old player, Adriana Diaz, has had multiple achievements in different events, including Women’s Singles Runner-Up at the WJC Cadets in Hong Kong. In addition, we were also honored to celebrate with great success the last edition of the 2011 Global Cadet Challenge & Global Junior Circuit Finals and suggested the idea of the Stiga ITTF Trick Shot, which was openly accepted.
My prediction is that Adham Sharara’s legacy will be immortalized in the World of Table Tennis for his performance and contribution. He will be analyzed and studied by future generations and become a legend.
I believe that soon the sport of Table Tennis will be ranked in the top 5 Olympic sports thanks to President Sharara’s admirable P5-DBI plan. The completion of the P5-DBI project will consecrate Adham as the best leader in the ITTF’s history.
Along those lines, what ideas do you have to help TT become TOP 5 IN ALL WE DO?
I humbly include my recommendations to strengthen Table Tennis worldwide:
- We must capitalize on our sport, given that a NASA study indicates that at an Elite level, the toughest sport is table tennis. Therefore, we must create a mystique about table tennis indicating that it is a highly complex and demanding sport, which at a competitive level requires many hours of training to be a professional player (8 hours of practice six days a week). A successful athlete must have great concentration and confidence because it is a sport of fine skills; it is the sport with the widest variety of shots. Regarding strokes – they should be counted and we should describe how many there are. Of all ball and racket sports, it is the one played with the smallest racket and in the smallest space, where the most velocity and effect can be imprinted on the ball. This information should be projected on TV by making a video that is both educational and leaves an impression. The video must be educational to the public in such a way that all shots and strokes are explained as well as their effects from a scientific point of view, including the physics involved and the rotations as illustrated in the ITTF books that exist in this aspect of table tennis.
- Another issue to attract people, especially children, is the most impressive part of table tennis: the training. We must open the practice of members of the national teams during the World Championships and other competitions to the public to see what awesome control coupled with the speed and spin that the athletes put on the ball. Players should be more fan-friendly, especially with children.
- Another recommendation is that in matches the public should be very close to the competition area, as it is in other sports such as boxing and basketball. Players must feel that the public is close. Of course, the public has to be educated in this respect.
- With regard to the celebration of the World Team Championships, we recommend that for the dissemination and growth, the celebration of the event by Divisions must be separated and each country must pay for the accommodation and food costs of their delegation as it is done in the WJC. This would create enthusiasm for the countries to host some events because the logistics would not generate costs for the host, but rather produce revenue in terms of private tourism. That way governments through tourism companies would support venue usage for each of these World Championships. Also, proclaiming a World Champion Division I, II, III, IV and V would be a great motivation for participants in each of the Divisions who aspire to be the World Champion in their respective Division. After every World Championship, the first two countries from each division go up and the last two go down. Another incentive is to give some prize money for the first two teams in each division.
- The ITTF could promote a Trick Shot contest between table tennis and other sports.
- The ITTF could promote a contest for the spectacular play of the week by voting on a TV channel like ESPN or FOX Sport, for table tennis together with other sports.
- The ITTF could promote a contest for best website page by Continental Confederations between Asia, Europe, Africa, Oceania, Latin America and North America, in which they choose the best from each continent, then among those, select the best webpage of the world. Or it may be an independent agency. The winner will receive publicity and a certificate from the ITTF as the Best Website of the Year.
- Sports and culture should be promoted, so I suggest that in every World Championship event where there is a cultural aspect, one or more of the 220 countries belonging to the ITTF should be invited to establish a cultural exchange with the host country. I recommend that this be done through the Tourism Offices of the countries to pay the airfare and the host country pay accommodation and food. This visit should be made the most out of by providing for the guest country to make free presentations where it is understood that the guest country will take the most advantage.
Thank you, Ivan, for this extraordinary list of excellent suggestions.