Day 59, July 4 - Patrick Gillmann: A Passionate Advocate for Juniors
“The improvement of TT needs to have a strong emphasis on the development of juniors.”
The Countdown has already profiled two of the ITTF’s Executive Committee members, current and incoming ITTF Presidents Adham Sharara and Thomas Weikert. Today we meet ITTF Executive Vice-President Patrick Gillmann.
So people can get to know you a little better, can you tell us about your earliest involvement in table tennis, taking us just through to the point in which you became a tournament organizer, umpire and referee?
As a child we had a table tennis table at home. I played the game with my brother in a small room. I joined a club at the age of 17 because a racket sport was needed for my studies. I passed immediately my exam as coach.
When I arrived in Koumac, New Caledonia in 1975 at the age of 23 as a mathematics teacher, there was no sport activity except soccer. I created a TT club and in a few months I had all the students at my college playing table tennis. Two years later I had the most number of players for New Caledonia (120 per 1,000 inhabitants). Five years later, 2 of my players won gold medals at the Pacific Games.
By that point, the “table tennis virus” was inside of me!
In 1976 I organized the first national tournament in Koumac, New Caledonia. In 1979 I became a national umpire and a referee. In 1983 I passed the Oceania umpire exam and then officiated at the Pacific Games in Papua New Guinea in the same year. I was the organizer and the referee for the Pacific Games in Noumea, NCL in 1987, and also for the Oceania Championships in Noumea in 1988 and in Koumac in 2000. Later I was the organizer/tournament director for the Global Junior Circuit in Noumea in both 2004 and 2013.
The aim was first to organize high level events in New Caledonia in the first stage. Then, in a second stage, to bring world events to Oceania, and, of course, to New Caledonia.
Before you were elected an ITTF Executive Vice President, what was your continental involvement?
I was the President of the Oceania TTF for 10 years. I was always in direct contact with Adham Sharara. I am very proud to be one of the leaders who advocated to formalize Continental Federations as part of the ITTF. Oceania has shown the way. And now, 5 of the 6 Continental Federations are officially part of the ITTF.
During my presidency, 100% of the 24 Oceania countries became OTTF members, the development program improved a lot due to the excellent Oceania development officers, marketing was introduced and prize money has brought our major events to the world level.
I noticed in your report to the AGM that so many of your designated responsibilities as a member of the ITTF’s Executive Committee have to do with the Global Junior Program. What draws you to focus so much on junior development?
In the first stage of my TT career as a coach in my club in 1975, I had 124 players, of which 120 of them were kids. In my mind, to get high-level senior players, we needed to have a large base of junior players. So, in the second stage, when I became involved in the Oceania TTF, our only chance to be successful in international events was in the cadet category. At that time, the ITTF didn't have any programs for young players. I was one of those who was fighting for the creation of the Junior Commission. I've never changed my vision that the improvement of TT needs to have a strong emphasis on the development of juniors.
You’ve been a member of the ITTF’s Junior Commission since its inception. What are the Commission’s special accomplishments you’d like to mention?
Yes, I have been a member of the Junior Commission since its inception more than 10 years ago. Everything had to be created. The first success was the World Junior Championship in Santiago in 2003, then the Global Junior Circuit and, for me the “cherry on the cake” was the World Cadet Challenge. That was the first World event with continental teams. It has been instrumental in the development of young players in all continents. Now that I am a member of the ITTF’s Executive Committee, I am happy to continue to contribute to the work of the Junior Commission.
Let’s get your views on the progress made or highlights of some of the Junior Programs, beginning with the World Junior Championships.
This competition was a must for the ITTF. Santiago was the first success and this event is now one of our major world competitions. The aim was also to give the opportunity to all our ITTF members to organize such a world event and this was achieved.
World Cadet Challenge?
As said in a previous answer, the WCC is one of the specific innovations of the ITTF. To create continental teams was a huge challenge. Today, with each team composed of 4 players from 4 different national associations, it presents a wonderful image of our development policy and Glenn Tepper is part of that success. The other success was the fact that some small countries, such as Guam, could organize this event at a very high standard. It was a special source of pride for me for it to be the first world event organized in Oceania.
I wasn't personally involved in the Hopes program, but my point of view is that the aim is to increase the number of U12 players in all countries. This can only be done by increasing the number of coaches in each continent as well as in their national associations.
In regard to this year’s Youth Olympic Games, you have indicated that you would be making a significant contribution. Could you describe what your role will be there?
The Youth Olympic Games are only on their 2nd edition and the ITTF’s only impact is on the qualification system. It has been improved since Singapore. The aim is to motivate more and more NOC's to send young players to the qualification events and, in that manner, to increase the number of young players in our affiliated countries.
Finally, as we look toward the transition in the ITTF presidency in just a couple of months, do you have some special stories to share about Adham Sharara?
For me, Adham has always been an example of “art in action” in managing an International Federation. He has done an extraordinary job chairing the Annual General Meetings. I’ve learned a lot from him, which I’ve tried to implement during my Oceania TTF presidency with some success.
I was pleased when Adham asked me to be part of his team in the 2013 election for this Olympic cycle. Then, although all of our team won, I was sad when I initially realized that he will move on. So we will see what happens over the whole of these 4 years.
I was also happy to surprise Adham, when 23 Oceania countries out of 24 supported his re-election in Paris. The future of the Oceania TTF is tied in with the future of the ITTF. We need to keep that in mind.