Day 3, August 29 - Walter Rönmark Believes the Outlook for the ITTF Is Good
“For me, taking our sport and the ITTF to the next level is about small steps now.”
When and how did you get involved in the ITTF?
I started to get involved in, and started to follow, international table tennis during the 1993-1994 season. The first time I was a delegate at the ITTF General Assembly was in 1997. Since then I have taken part in all GA’s/AGM’s. Since I was elected to the BoD, I have also taken part in all BoD meetings. I have been active in almost every one either with written proposals or in the discussions. I have also tried to be active in the ITTF business and the international sports business between the meetings, at home as well as abroad.
Speaking of meetings, Adham Sharara will continue to chair the AGMs through 2017. I understand that Ulf Lönnqvist, who was president of the Swedish TTA before you, congratulated Adham after one tough AGM. Adham said, “Coming from him that meant a lot.” Can you comment on this?
In this story, you must first know something about Ulf Lönnqvist. He himself is very good at chairing big meetings, such as General Assemblies. He is also known for not expressing his appreciation when others have done a good job. That is what he expects everyone to do. If Ulf Lönnqvist thinks that someone did a very good job, he might say, “I have seen worse” or “It was not that bad.” A statement like that would be equivalent to getting a top ranking from Ulf Lönnqvist.
In Sweden we are very interested in how International Assemblies are chaired, as we believe that we are good at chairing such meetings and we have seen so many international meetings badly chaired.
I think I remember this situation you are asking about. It might have been the General Assembly in Kuala Lumpur, which was a tricky meeting and Adham “performed” well and therefore prompted the comment from Ulf Lönnqvist which showed that Ulf was satisfied and appreciated Adham’s way of chairing the meeting.
Since you became involved in the ITTF, what positive changes have you seen?
I have seen a lot of positive changes. The ITTF has undergone a tremendous and dramatic change -- for the better, of course! I’ve seen a lot of improvement over the last 15-20 years. I don’t believe any other international sports organization has had a similar level of activity. In our case, that includes:
- the changing of the counting system
- the bigger ball
- the increase of Pro Tour tournaments and the whole Pro Tour/World Tour concept
- the increase in TV attraction, especially in the Olympics
- Team events in the Olympics
Those are just a few examples.
But let me not forget to mention the change that the ITTF has made from a rather insignificant – from an international perspective - and from a financially rather poor organisation to one with its own solid capital and good economy. Much of that has been due to the ability to "package and sell" table tennis to TV.
And let me also mention the emergence of the ITTF’s professional and efficient staff.
There are so many positive changes I have seen that there isn't space or time to mention them all.
Think of the possibility today to follow tournaments live all over the world on your computer. Who would have thought that possible 15 years ago?
Also, from the perspective of a president of a national table tennis federation, I would like to express my appreciation over the openness and transparency that now characterizes the ITTF leadership in which Adham Sharara has been the frontrunner and the driving force. The good mutual communication between the ITTF and its members has been a great change for the better.
Can you elaborate on your last comment in terms of the direct communication that you and Adham have had over these last 15 or so years?
Commenting further about Adham’s openness and transparency, Adham’s way of responding immediately if you contact him has been reflected also by the ITTF staff; you always get a response. Openness and transparency is also seen in the fact that proposals to the General Assembly or BoD are well known in advance. Very seldom are there proposals coming out of the blue or unprepared.
Looking back at the fifteen years of Adham Sharara’s presidency, what are your thoughts?
During his presidency, Adham Sharara’s leadership has established a solid platform for future development of the ITTF and all aspects of table tennis internationally. It is unlikely that there will be such big changes in the future. No organization has the strength and stamina to change so dramatically over a long time. It will be small steps, but hopefully many. From the present solid platform, the outlook is good. There is good leadership in place, which means more improvement on the way.
The great challenge is to make more than one continent competitive in the Olympics and World Championships so that at least players from three continents can be an Olympic champion. But that is not only the task for the ITTF - not even the main task of the ITTF - but without the support and cooperation of the ITTF, it won't be possible.
Sweden has a unique legacy of creating World Champions. Can you share some follow-up thoughts about what we can do collectively to achieve your “three continents” goal?
In the late 1980’s and 1990’s, Sweden was the country that could beat the Chinese. Today Germany is the strongest contender outside Asia. I don’t know how to do it today because yesterday’s method isn’t working today. The only thing I know is that to get three continents to be able to compete for a World Champion title, cooperation is needed as well as ITTF support. When table tennis is so big that players from three continents can be champion – look at soccer where teams from at least four, possibly five, continents can win the World Cup -- then table tennis definitely belongs to the top 5 sports in the world.
Along those lines, what ideas do you have about steps we can take to be in the TOP 5 IN ALL WE DO?
As I said earlier, for me, taking our sport and the ITTF to the next level is about small steps now. I think that this involves hard work in all aspects, in all details.
We can aim for one or two positions higher in TV rankings from the Olympics.
We can educate our staff a fraction better than last year.
We can improve our contact and communication with the continents and our new members.
We can take steps to make our website a fraction better.
We can communicate better via social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, etc.
You see what I mean. Not big dramatic changes, but small improvements over the whole range of all aspects.