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

By Sheri Cioroslan | July 20, 2014, 5 p.m. (ET)

Day 43, July 20 - Khalil Al-Mohannadi

“The language of sports is a universal human language and a message of love.” 

Khalil Al-MohannadiKhalil Al-Mohannadi does more than just talk about table tennis.  He envisions the steps to be taken, then goes about accomplishing the mission of his heart.  Over the last ten years, he led Qatar’s bid to host the 2004 World Championships, he stepped up to host the Peace and Sport Cup, and he is on a mission to accomplish even more.  His, and our, dear friend Zlatko Cordas has helped to ensure that the desired high standards have been delivered beyond expectations.  Today Khalil Al-Mohannadi visits with the Countdown about his recollections and dreams for the future. 

Congratulations on your nearly ten years of service on the ITTF’s Executive Committee.  As the Senior Executive Vice-President of the ITTF, you have one of the, what I would consider, more fun and interesting duties, which is “to attend as many of the big events as possible.”  In turn, you provide an analysis of the strong and weak points.  That’s a great match for you because Qatar has long had the reputation of running one of the best Pro Tour (now World Tour) tournaments in the world.  Can you share some of your observations with us, especially in light of the ITTF’s initiative to be in the “TOP 5 IN ALL WE DO?” 

Thank you for your kind congratulations on my nearly 10 years of service on the ITTF’s Executive Committee.

As the Senior Executive Vice-President of the ITTF, I do agree that the duty "to attend as many of the big events as possible” is most likely to be the duty that is most interesting and fun. I try to gain knowledge from the reviews and feedback about these championships.  This also happens through the exchange of views, ideas and information with our fellow colleagues from the organizing committees of these championships, our colleagues working within the Competition Department of the ITTF, and all related parties involved in developing the points of strength and improving the points of weaknesses in the championships.  

Most certainly I take all of these remarks and ideas from these championships and use them in continuously improving the Qatar World Tour, which we take great pride in, especially because Mr. Adham Sharara has dubbed it “the jewel” of the World Tour series. Through hard work and the tireless efforts of all, and taking advantage of lessons learned from past mistakes and sharing ideas and opinions, we will achieve the initiative of the ITTF to be in the "TOP 5 IN ALL WE DO." 

What are some of the proposals that you could see being tried or implemented in the near future? 

In the ITTF, technical improvements usually pass through multiple stages over a relatively long period of time, as seen with the conversion of the ball size from 38 mm to 40 mm, the changes introduced to the serve rule, the banning of speed glue, and more recently the usage of plastic balls instead of celluloid balls.  This method maintains the stability of the game and its balance. 

We are leaning now towards waiting before taking any new steps in order to consider and evaluate the feedback received from players, Federations and concerned parties. 

Personally, as Khalil Al-Mohannadi speaking on behalf of the Qatar TTA, we wish to host the 2020 World Championship’s.  Our wish is that the 2020 WTTC’s will constitute the beginning of prize money being distributed to the winning teams, similar to the World Tour series. 

It was in the 1970s that many of the Arab states joined the ITTF.  That must have been an exciting time.  Now there are several related regional events.  Can you tell us a little more about what types of events are being held as well as any related kind of unique promotion of table tennis?  

There has been major progress since the 1970s until now.  Now we see in the Arab World many international championships organized under the umbrella of the ITTF.  The Qatar Open began two decades ago.  Some other international events have been held in Kuwait and Morocco.  And international junior events have been organized in Bahrain, Egypt and Tunisia.  This really contributes to spreading and developing Table Tennis as a sport in the Arab region. 

Along those lines, I read that for the Club Championships organized by and for Arab states, almost all of the clubs signed a famous player.  Can you describe how that works?

I believe that the Arab Table Tennis Federations have an important role in spreading the culture of practicing the sport of Table Tennis.  This applies not only on the Arab countries level but also on the international level.

Signing with the best professional players in the world was a move initiated by the Arab clubs to play at the Arab Clubs Championships in which 40 Arab clubs, champions of their own leagues, and from both genders, competed. This move, as you know, is greatly beneficial as it allows the Arab players to be exposed to the finest World Champions and break the barriers among them.  Moreover it introduced the Arab sport society to the great technical levels of the professional players and the enormous evolution of the sport of Table Tennis through television broadcasting of these championships through satellite feed.

At the same time, it introduced the professional players to the inherent customs and legacy of Arab societies based on the values ​​of mutual respect and appreciation, generosity and hospitality. 

Do you recall what the circumstances were when Qatar joined the ITTF in 1978? 

Yes, I do remember.  I was a player on the Qatari National Team at that time and one the players at Al Arabi Club. At that time all the officials in Qatar, led by H.H. the Emir were looking to elevate the stature of the country from all walks of life to reflect positively on the Qatar society. Among these areas were Youth & Sports.  Since the Qatari society is a young society, the state officials realized the necessity to join the Sports organizations on the Arab level as well as at the broader international level.  

They believed in the importance of these organizations to contribute to the promotion and spreading of the noble Sports principals which were the basis of their foundations. 

How did you happen to get involved in the sport and QTTA? 

Sport and playing are natural instincts innate in humans. I practiced many sports during my childhood.  However, Table Tennis attracted me more with its own mental, physical, and technical characteristics. 

And this prompted me to start my career as a player at the club level.  Then, as a player on the national team, I had the honor to represent the State of Qatar competing in many of the Arab and international Championships.  And when I retired, I could not get away from the sport that I loved since childhood.  

The desire to serve the sport and its players pushed me in the direction of administrative work at the club level, then as a member of the Qatar Table Tennis Association, then as president of the Qatar TTA since 1995.  I had to follow my path in serving the Sport of Table Tennis by joining the family of the ITTF as a member of the Executive Committee since 2005 until now. 

The QTTA has been one of the few associations to host the WTTCs for their first time during President Sharara’s term.  What was the QTTA’s interest in hosting the 2004 WTTC’s and what was the post-event assessment? 

The interest and desire of the QTTA to host the World Championship’s in 2004 was due to our wish to contribute to the promotion of the sport of Table Tennis on the national, regional and international levels.  Our desire was to try to shift the level of organization of the World Championships to more distinguished levels.  In addition, we wanted to contribute to human harmony through the huge participation of the countries from different continents of the world.  During the World Championship’s in Doha, we wanted to introduce all the participants to this part of the world, which is rich in civilization, values and traditional customs.  We view the participants as first and foremost ambassadors who will carry with them their memories and impressions of their experiences back to their home countries.  And Praise God, the reviews of all of the participants were positive.  This met the aspirations of the Qatar Table Tennis Association in organizing a distinctive World Championship’s. 

A lot of us were sad to see our good friend Zlatko Cordas retire from his ITTF Competition Manager position when the QTTA hired him.  He, of course, was a “game changer” in terms of the high standards that were implemented under his watch.  I suppose the two of you have a lot of talks about raising our sport’s presentation standards.  What are some of the unique ideas the two of you have discussed? 

My dearest friend Zlatko Cordas is one of the truly most distinctive persons I have ever met.  We at the QTTA hold, for this loving man of the sport of Table Tennis, nothing but love, appreciation and pride.  Most of our talks revolve around raising the bar in all areas of our sport.   This is really summed up by the words of the ITTF initiative to be in the "TOP 5 IN ALL WE DO." 

One area that particularly interests me is peace through sport.  In 2011, Qatar hosted the ITTF’s Peace and Sport Cup.  Can you give us a brief overview of the event?  

The ITTF, led by Mr. Adham Sharara, has a strong relationship with the Organization “Peace and Sport.”  I think that the organization of the ITTF Cup for Peace and Sport is an accomplishment of the sport of table tennis, the ITTF and QTTA.  Many countries participated in that Cup.  And the sport was able to gather them together around a table tennis table.  Countries participating were North Korea, South Korea, India, Pakistan, China, Japan, France, the United States, Russia, and Qatar.  

The ITTF gave the honor of organizing this unique world event to the Qatar TTA for several reasons.  As per the testimony, the QTTA managed to offer a great setting in terms of the expected dependability of the organization, including up-scaled hospitality as well as ease of obtaining visas to the state of Qatar for all countries.  We were delighted to have hosted this tournament.  We hope to do it again.  The event is considered to have been a bright spot in the history of the sport of table tennis in Qatar. 

How did you feel the initiative advanced the cause of world peace? 

The language of sports is a universal human language and a message of love.  It does not differentiate between national origins, gender, color, or religion.  Presenting that initiative for the cause of world peace, is more than great as it aims at breaking boundaries and this comes from the desire of Qatar, at all levels, to make world peace in this universe for everyone to live in human harmony and peace. 

Since the Countdown series is in honor of Adham Sharara’s 15 years as ITTF President, do you have some interesting stories, reflections or expressions to share? 

I still remember vividly the story on how Qatar won the honor of hosting the international championship and the obstacles it had to face at the beginning.  We were able to overcome these obstacles thanks to the tact and cooperation of Mr. Sharara.   

Initially we presented the bid file of Qatar in Malaysia during the Executive Board meeting.  I was not a member at that time and one of the conditions was that the championship had to be mixed (that is, for both men and women). 

We agreed with the ITTF, through Mr. Adham Sharara, to hold the championship for men in Qatar and for women in Lebanon.  And the next year the Qatar Championship was held for men and a showcase match for women took place at Qatar University, without allowing them to mix due to local customs.  Then, in the next two subsequent championships, they were held for men and women. Women, however, were requested to wear sports pants.  After that the championships were held regularly without any prior conditions as it is the case nowadays.   

This is all due to the understanding and cooperation of Mr. Adham Sharara, who comes from Arabic descent.  He has contributed widely to the acceptance of these norms, step-by-step.  It has never been easy to organize such championships, which had to go through many milestones. 

You have been a dedicated volunteer, visible promoter and supporter of women.  Thank you, very much. 

Thank you for your time and interest.