47-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

By Sheri Cioroslan | July 16, 2014, 5 p.m. (ET)

Day 47, July 16 - Melecio Eduardo Rivera Brings a Wealth of Experience to the ITTF’s EC

“The tenure of President Sharara will undoubtedly mark a ‘before and after’ in the history of our sport.”

Melecio Eduardo RiveraToday the Countdown visits with Melecio Eduardo Rivera, who has served as President of the El Salvador TTA since 1983 and an ITTF Executive Vice-President since 2009.

So far everyone profiled in the Countdown has had an interesting background story about how they first became involved in the sport of table tennis. Can you please share your story with us?

When I was young, I started playing “ping pong” with my neighbors with whom we founded a small club where we spoke tirelessly. My continued training led me to successfully participate in an event organized at my school in which I came out Champion. Becoming a member of the School Team allowed me to participate in the Intercollegiate Championships of that year in my country. Our school was always at the finals for many years, including the crowning of Champion.

When I was sixteen-years-old, I was a member of the Major National Team of El Salvador.  I participated in various Central American Championships and in numerous international exchanges with the countries in the region.

In 1956 I had to leave the country to continue my University Studies in the city of Monterrey, México, where I continued playing Table Tennis.  I became Champion of my University in the internal tournaments that took place.

In 1963 I graduated as a Civil Engineer and I went back to my country, where I continued to play my sport consistently. In 1965 I again joined the National Team and represented my country in different international events, up to the year 1968 when I temporarily retired for professional reasons. This involuntary retirement kept me away from Table Tennis until 1982, when I accepted an invitation of the leadership of the Salvadorean Federation to participate in a Master’s Championship, which reignited the practice of my sport.

In 1983 I was elected President of the El Salvador TTA, an office which I hold until today, directing the destiny of Table Tennis in my country all these years. In 1987, representing our sport and with the support of other sports, I was elected President of the National Olympic Committee. It’s an office that I held for twelve years until 1999.

In 1994 I was elected President of the Central American Sport Organization (ORDECA) of the Central American Region. I left this Organization in 2002. Among the roles that Table Tennis has allowed me to occupy during my sports career are the following:

  • President of the Central American Table Tennis Confederation also known as (CONCATEME);
  • President of the Latin American Table Tennis Union (LATTU); and finally
  • ITTF Executive Vice-President in 2009. 

All of the above constitutes a synopsis of my history as a Table Tennis athlete and as a leader of my beloved sport to which I have been connected to practically all of my existence.

As a Master athlete I continued to be active up to 2010, at which time due to a knee injury I was forced to retire, having participated in numerous regional events of that Category, which gave me enormous satisfactions during all these years.  And, as a member of the leadership I had the honor to attend all the World Championships since 1983 in Tokyo, Japan up to this date. All this constitutes the making of my sport’s life given to our beloved sport, Table Tennis.

As an Executive Vice-President, one of your areas of responsibility is working with Glenn Tepper on Development issues. This year the ITTF has tied Volleyball in having the most affiliated countries, at 220. And, it’s interesting to note that the only country in the Americas that has not yet joined the ITTF is the Bahamas. I thought I heard President Sharara mention at the AGM that he would be happy to “spend some time there” to work on this! Can you tell us if there is something in the works with the Bahamas?

Achieving the incorporation of Bahamas to the ITTF has been an issue in which we have worked for many years, all directly managed by Leandro Olvech, ITTF Director of the Development Program who has been searching for a direct contact with the Bahamas Olympic Committee, without reaching it, although the efforts have been carried out through numerous letters sent without having an answer.

By a friend from IAAF (Athletics) we looked to make contact with the person who is the Bahamas’ Sport Director.  We sent him various invitation letters to try to interest the island to join the ITTF. The last letter sent by Leandro was May 29 of the current year. Up to this date, they continued not answering. You must be assured that we will continue to move forward with this objective until we attain it.

An exciting event is coming up for LATTU this November: the XXII Central American and Caribbean Games. Can you tell us more about that event?

The Central American and Caribbean Sports Organization (CACSO) is the owner of these Games, which have been taking place since 1926, when the first ones were carried out in Cuba. These regional Games are the oldest regional Games in the world after the Olympic Games and they are part of the Olympic Cycle of the Central American and the Caribbean countries. There are a total of 32 member countries of this Organization. These Games, to take place in November, constitute the XXII Edition and its site will be the city of Veracruz, Mexico, which is preparing intensely to receive more than 5,500 athletes that will compete in 40 sports, among them, of course, Table Tennis.

Our sport will be played in the city of Xalapa, capital of the state of Veracruz.  The venue for this event is a beautiful gymnasium that is under construction.  It’s called the Omega Complex where Badminton will also be played. This Gymnasium will be completely finished in September of the current year and its construction is followed very closely by myself, as responsible on behalf of CACSO to supervise the advances of the construction process of all the infrastructures of these Games.

Undoubtedly this XXII Edition of the Games will be a complete success in the competitive aspect as well as in ample athletic participation, especially because this event is part of the classification process for the 2015 Pan American Sport Games to take place in Toronto, Canada.

For the November Games in Veracruz, the Mexican as well as the Olympic authorities have invested all the necessary elements to have, as they say, the “Best Games in History.”

In the ITTF, we have separate Continental affiliations for Latin America and North America. How do you see relations developing between the two Continental unions? What are the areas that you could see the two Continents working together on more?

This situation of having two Continental Unions is a problem whose solution has been delayed through the years.  It is my understanding this is due strictly for political reasons within our sport. Obviously America is only one Continent, and as a matter of fact, the organization that should manage our sport should be one: the Pan-American Confederation of Table Tennis, however, we have two.

Regrettably this historical mistake has not been corrected over time, although there have been many attempts.  There is an enormous damage that this division has been causing.  It has even drawn the continuous attention from the Pan American Sport Organization (PASO) which has sought from both groups to solve once and for all the barriers that are keeping us from reaching this union.

This is so regrettable that Table Tennis remains as the only sport that maintains this status of two Organizations that govern the same Continent. The other sports in that condition have been able to solve their differences and now they function as only one Organization. This irregular condition only exists in our sport. PASO has been, and keeps insisting, that if Table Tennis in this Continent wishes to truly receive all support from Pan American Olympic Solidarity, it must solve this situation.

Among the different intersections of LATTU and NATTU, besides the discussion meetings over this topic which have taken place at different times and occasions, there has never been a resolution to find a truly and unique solution to this problem.  And it gets worse each time the Pan American Sport Games get closer.  Each time temporary participation solutions try to give an image that we are a single body. Other forms of cooperation among the two entities are only participation invitations to certain events already programmed by the ITTF, such as the Junior Circuits and others.

In summary, I can tell from my point of view that in order for our Continent to really grow, in the development of our sport there should exist a cooperation and support policies that come from only one Organization that regulates and dictate all those policies. This union without doubt will give us more power and presence in front of the other Continents.

Rio de Janeiro will be the site of the next Olympics Games. It sounds like everything is on track for table tennis there. Can you tell us any highlights about the preparation process?

The Organizing Committee of the coming Olympic Games in Río de Janeiro, Brazil, is already working very hard on all preparatory processes of each one of the Program sports. Specifically in relation to Table Tennis, I may comment that last March I had the opportunity to visit Río de Janeiro, forming part of the ITTF Commission that is following up on the preparation of our sport, and to receive a detailed report of each one of the working areas on behalf of the Organizing Committee. The working visit lasted two days and we were fully informed about the equipment, installations layout, delegation lodging, and also lodging for the ITTF family, results management, TV transmission, and all other details that are required to put on an Olympic Games.

Undoubtedly, according to my perception, these Games will be very successful and particularly our sport will be brilliantly organized as required by the IOC. As time goes by and we are getting closer to the critical dates, all important details and aspects will be polished. The ITTF follow-up Commission will be attentive to all those details. The venue where our Sport will be played will be in the Complex Río Centro, located on a very nice and modern area of Río de Janeiro and known by many since at this same place were played the Pan American Games that took place a few years ago in that beautiful City.

In your report to the AGM, you wrote, “President Sharara’s leadership at the forefront of our organization remains our strongest asset in the pursuit of the grand aims of making the ITTF one of the strongest International Federations in the Olympic Movement.” What are some specific examples that illustrate your statement? Is there anything else you would like to say about Adham Sharara?

Without a doubt, what I stated in my report to the AGM clearly defines what the leadership of President Sharara has meant to the ITTF. His clear vision of everything that is needed to change our Organization and our sport is something that has become clear throughout the years of his administration.

Now the ITTF is one of the most prestigious International Federations and his firm desire to turn it into one of the Top 5 in the Olympic Movement is a goal that he set for himself in the short-term.

His spirit as a sport leader has influenced the entire Technical Staff around him, thus helping to turn staff activities into successes in various fields of work. His strong support provided to all the Continents in Technical Development is something to highlight and to be grateful for. His program, now known as the P5, will now include the term “Promotion,” which will be a determining factor to complete the transformation process in which our sport now finds itself. It will truly help increase the popularity of our sport.

All the attributes mentioned above about the tenure of President Sharara, as he led us towards excellence in our sport, will undoubtedly mark a “before and after” in the history of our sport.