Day 5, August 27 - Why President Sharara Can Leave the ITTF Presidency with Satisfaction
“From D to C, why it is so important to me.”
Throughout the Countdown series many people have expressed their appreciation to you for Table Tennis being moved up to a higher funding category by the International Olympic Committee. Can you give us the behind-the-scenes look at how this happened? Was this part of the impetus to start your drive for TT to be in the TOP 5 IN ALL WE DO?
I am known in the ASOIF (Association of Summer Olympic International Federations) as a “pain in the neck” when it comes to the IOC funding of Olympic sports. I have fought for a long time to establish a fair and equitable system.
After the 1992 summer Olympics, sports were placed in 4 categories by then IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch. There were no criteria. The grouping of sports was based on Samaranch’s own intuition, and it was pretty good. Table Tennis was placed in the last group (D), and we deserved that classification then, because we were a relatively new sport on the Olympic program, and also we ranked 24th out of 26 sports in TV coverage and importance at the Barcelona Olympic Games. So, we were considered a small player in the Olympic field. Later two new sports were admitted to the Olympic Program, Taekwondo and Triathlon, and as new sports they were placed in the new fifth group (E).
For many years the International Federations complained about their grouping. When Jacques Rogge was elected as IOC president, he decided to let ASOIF decide the distribution of the Olympic fund to International Federations. This was an excellent move as it allowed the sports themselves to decide the criteria and the distribution. I immediately started to present fair and equitable proposals to ASOIF based on an equal weight distribution between “Historical”, “Performance” and “Equality”. The combination of these three factors, in equal proportions would determine the funding for each sport. “Historical” meant that each sport would receive the exact same amount as the previous Games as a base. Then the “increased” funding would overall be divided in two, with one half divided equally amongst all 28 sports. The remaining portion would be divided according to the performance of each sport in the latest Games. This seemed logical and fair. Not so. Why? Because when the formula was applied, some traditional sports would drop drastically and some sports like ours would rise to much higher amounts. So it was not accepted.
Finally the proposed formula that I presented and fought for over a 3-year period was adopted by ASOIF. But the weight of each category was not equal. In fact the base funding was accepted, but then the “increase” was divided into the 3 proposed categories with “Historical” being repeated and given close to 80% value. This made the “Equality” and Performance” elements almost negligible. It meant the rich get richer and the IOC’s own performance indicators would be given almost no value.
I was furious and expressed this openly and loudly. This was after the Beijing Olympic Games when Table Tennis had a brilliant performance and ranked 4th in TV coverage.
At the ASOIF meeting following the 2008 Games I made my views known and expressed my disdain at the entire unfair system. Here was an excellent formula, proposed by the ITTF, and accepted by ASOIF, but implemented completely the wrong way. This was not acceptable. But there was nothing I could do. The ASOIF Chairman put the matter to a vote, which needed a unanimous decision, and although the first vote had 11 Federations against, forcing the Chairman to have another vote; and on the second vote 6 Federations were still against. This forced a 3rd and final vote. The final vote had only 2 federations against, Swimming and Table Tennis. This was it, the formula was passed, and we remained in the 4th group “D”.
I accepted the democratic decision. After all, 26-2 is an overwhelming result. It was not unanimous, but the ASOIF constitution says that 3 votes are enough. It was “almost” unanimous.
At this point, Jordi Serra and I were ready to leave the meeting in defeat. Then something really amazing happened. The then president of the Wrestling federation stood up, and out of the blue said, “I am not happy with the result, but I accept it. I would never have accepted to be in the same group as a sport like Table Tennis. This would have been ridiculous.” At that time Wrestling was in Group C, while TT was in Group D.
The ASOIF Chairman told him that the decision is made and there was no need for such comments.
Oh yeah! I said to myself. “Yes, there is need for such comment, yes there is”. This is the kind of comment that gets me going. Jordi Serra said to me “You must say something, you cannot let him insult our sport like this”. I told Jordi “I will not leave the ITTF until we move from D to C group”. And I added, “Our actions will speak louder than our words”. Then I marked on his agenda papers a big “C” and circled it.
Over the next 4 years ASOIF struggled to find the right formula to satisfy every federation. We started to fight internally, so the ASOIF Chairman gave up and referred the matter to the IOC. “We cannot decide the grouping ourselves, so the IOC must decide for us”.
The IOC took on this responsibility, which I believe always belonged to the IOC in any case, and finally in May 2013 announced the new groupings. Table Tennis moved from D to C. The Wrestling federation did not have to worry; they would NOT be in the same Group as table tennis. In fact, they were lowered by one group to group D, so not with Table Tennis. Unfortunately, I could not go over to the Wrestling federation president and smile at him. He was no longer the President, as he had to resign because the IOC Executive Board put Wrestling on the chopping block, and the new president was fighting to get Wrestling back into the program. This was not a good time to gloat.
So, we are in Group C, what does it mean? It means that we are grouped with sports ranked between 9th and 14th. This is a nice step up. I would say based on the IOC’s own criteria, and looking at where we are situated, we would rank around the middle of this group at 11th or 12th. And, oh yes, more funding, and a great satisfaction for the result of our work. It also meant that I could leave the ITTF’s presidency with satisfaction.
The next step for the ITTF: Top-5.
Some may say that it’s impossible for table tennis to reach the Top-5. Perhaps we need another IF president to make such a statement at the next ASOIF meeting to motivate us. Perhaps Thomas Weikert needs to circle a big “B” on Judit Farago’s agenda papers at the next ASOIF meeting? Or perhaps we just need to implement the new P5 Plan? Yes, that’s it, let’s do just that, let’s work together and be in the Top-5 in all we do.
Thank you, Adham. Thanks to the commitment shown by everyone in this series, we won't rest until we achieve our Top-5 goal. Just take a look at the passion, energy and drive of the ITTF leadership and staff. We're already on the way there.