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

By Sheri Cioroslan | July 24, 2014, 5 p.m. (ET)

Day 39, July 24 - Ian Marshall Feels Privileged to Do What He Loves

“Give 100% to whatever the task and do your best; the harder you try, the greater the reward. The reward is measured in terms of satisfaction.” 

If you are following the Countdown at ittf.com, you know that the hand of Ian Marshall, the ITTF Publications Editor, tapped the keys to get it posted – often adding his own anecdotal introductions of the person being profiled or the theme being covered.  Today he shares how he got his start in the sport, where his life in table tennis has taken him, and his opinion about the ITTF’s progress during Adham’s Sharara presidency. 

Can you tell us how you got started in the sport?

Ian MarshallI cannot pinpoint an exact date; it would be in the mid-1950s. Every year at Christmas I would receive the Eagle Annual; two pages were allocated to table tennis. I knew about Victor Barna, Johnny Leach, Richard Bergmann, Diane and Rosalind Rowe; they were household names.

My parents played against me on the dining room table, the net was a rolled up tablecloth. It was a Victorian farm house, so my parents had to play at the end of the room where there was a large grandfather clock that never kept accurate time.

However, I suppose the real initiation was as a first-year pupil at Beverley Grammar School. My form master played in the local league and he started a table tennis club at the school. Unfortunately after one year he left but the school team continued and we played in the Hull and District Schools’ League. Always I played and we never broke with tradition; always we finished in the bottom two teams in the league.

Golf and cricket took precedence, but always I played table tennis. Eventually in 1964, following six years of pain, after catching the eye of a master from Hymers College, the top school in the area, I won the first game against their leading player but was then nailed to the gatepost in the next two. I joined the Young Peoples’ Institute in the nearby city of Hull. It was where all the leading players practised.

A sixth former, I decided to coach the first year boys at my school. After six months, I contacted the master in question at Hymers College and asked if their first year boys would welcome a match. They agreed and we won 8-0! Life as coach had started.

Gradually ambitions of being a golf professional at a local club waned; I went to University in London before moving to assume teaching posts in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire and then Market Drayton, Shropshire.

At every school I organized a table tennis club and eventually in Market Drayton we became national champions.

As a player I managed to represent the Wisbech town team but I have never ever attended a coaching session as a player. I have taken thousands of coaching sessions but never did I ever receive any coaching whatsoever. Additionally I have never been ranked anywhere!

Notably, I played in the National Championships about four times and I hold a record. Just as Desmond Douglas won the most times; I lost the most, I never won one single match! Basically I was KBC (keen but crap).

Also I became a most proficient umpire. In many of the tournaments where I played, if you lost, you umpired the next match on the table. White badge, Blue Badge, Polka Dot Badge, I could pass that with my eyes shut!

Coaching and organizing table tennis took the front seat. Several international players joined the club I organized at Grove School in Market Drayton and I became the worst player ever to sit as coach for the England team. 

You joined the ITTF staff in 1995 in St Leonards-on-Sea.  What were your initial job responsibilities?

I started as Administrative Director, which was basically doing clerical duties: responding to faxes (there was no email), answering the telephone, updating various technical leaflets, writing minutes. In general it was running the office.

Also, soon after I arrived, I remember a call from the late Jean-Jacques Huberman.

“I’m missing the name of a Men’s Singles quarter-finalist from the World Championships.”

No problem, I thought. I’ll go down to the musty dungeon to find the answer.  I was thinking he was referring to the tournament which had been held earlier in the year.

But he added the immortal phrase, “Cairo 1939”.

It was a somewhat unsettled period within the ITTF. Lollo Hammarlund had been elected President following the passing of Ichiro Ogimura; then sadly after only a short time in office, he died and Mr. Xu Yinsheng assumed office.

However, the name of the driving force was clear; everyone sought the opinion of Adham Sharara. 

Shortly after Adham was elected in 1999, the office moved to Lausanne.  How did that impact your employment situation?

I left the office in St Leonard’s-on-Sea in August 1996 after only one year to work from home in the West Midlands. I became the England Team Manager whilst maintaining my links with the ITTF by editing Table Tennis Illustrated.

The move to Lausanne did not really affect me.

In December 1999, the Team Manager’s job fell through. I thought I was badly treated.

Thankfully I was financially secure; I did some coaching, continued to edit Table Tennis Illustrated, but as the Internet grew and ITTF Media Managers came and went, the need for articles grew and my English skills increased in demand.

Coaching was reduced; by late 2004 my coaching activity was at level zero. 

Nonetheless, you are someone Glenn Tepper [Day 80] might refer to as a “multiskiller.”  Can you tell us all of the areas you have made contributions in?  And, as for the present, what is the scope of your work?

I’m not sure about “multiskiller.” In fact, I don’t think the word exists. But I think you have to be adaptable if you want to succeed whether as a player, coach or official.

Give 100% to whatever the task and do your best; the harder you try, the greater the reward. The reward is measured in terms of satisfaction.

Writing articles is the base, but in addition there is providing information as the P5 policy grows, keeping a library of photos, checking English when asked, and conducting video interviews at tournaments. Each day there is a plethora of emails to answer.

Also for BBC there is television commentary and attending tournaments at the request of continental or national associations.

I like everything to be neat and tidy; I think good presentation is very important. 

You obviously can’t be in multiple places at once.  How do you manage to create an inflow of news to post? 

Regarding tournaments when I’m not present, I read the results and use my knowledge.

There is no great plan. I start in the morning and just continue until everything has been cleared. I try not to leave things till the next day; if I did, I would sink like the Titanic.

The Countdown articles I do as soon as possible and then store them in a library folder until the release date.

However, I cannot grumble; the pleasing fact for me is the number of requests, “Please can we be on ittf.com”; it’s always good to hear that phrase. 

What does the pace of your work look like?  Are you mostly on the road, working from home, or a good mixture of the two?

With the number of requests I receive to attend tournaments, I’m away from home more than at home, but so long as I have an Internet link, I’m ok.

Writing the articles does not take too long; what takes time is doing research or trying to decipher contributions when the writer is not fluent in English.

If I’m at an event and I can conduct an interview, usually I can write quickly. If I’m not present, reading all the results and looking for the story takes time.

However, at the end of the day when everything is complete, there is an immense amount of satisfaction and the opportunities I had been afforded outweigh the times when you want to throw the laptop in the local canal.

Ask any ITTF staff member; we all feel a sense of privilege to be able to do what we love. 

Table tennis is achieving more and more visibility.  How have you seen this evidenced, say, at events, or in press matters?

I think the recent ZEN-NOH 2014 World Championships answers the question; the coverage by using all possible media means was better than ever and welcomed by all involved in reporting.

I know I do the writing, but the more video clips, the more visuals, the more table tennis is “cool”.

The presentation of events improves by the day. 

I want to thank you for your excellent collaboration in this series, including the introductory flourishes you post on most of the Countdown articles.  I can see that you are a walking encyclopedia of stored TT information.  Has this series caused you some nostalgic reflections?

Thanks for the compliment; I have moved from being KBC to BOF (boring old fart).

Basically I think of the time when I first started with the ITTF, how different life was in 1995!

Also I often think of the late Zdenko Uzorinac when writing is the subject. I met Zdenko in about 1993; my club played Industrogradnja of Zagreb in what was then the Europe Club Cup of Champions. It was a time of troubles in the area, but we went and Zdenko proved a wonderful host.

He explained that he wrote about table tennis. At first I was not impressed, I thought how sad; I thought surely there are other options than write about table tennis! Of course as the years passed my views changed; Zdenko Uzorinac was a gentleman, he was the true walking table tennis encyclopedia and because of writing, he left an indelible mark: the book “Legends of Table Tennis”.

Apologies, but sometimes as I read the Countdown, my mind flashes back to my days at school. By some miracle I went to the oldest state grammar school in the country, even older than Eton and Harrow!  

I had a very formal education where Americanization of English was blasphemy!  Practice is a noun, practise is a verb! Never use “nice, get or got,” there is always a better word! Never start a sentence with a conjunction or end with a preposition! Program goes in a computer! Whatever next?

George III, who in the 1760s lost the American War of Independence, has a great deal to answer for! Damn! “For” is a preposition! 

You are now a very senior staff member.  What observations do you have about the changes in the presentation and popularity of the sport since 1995, with particular attention to the Sharara presidency?

More simply, I’m the oldest and I’m past retirement age, but I want to continue and one of the major reasons is Adham Sharara.

Simply: Adham has moved matters forward; the achievements are well documented in other Countdown articles. There is consistent progress, never ending innovation that is a massive motivating factor.

Members of the staff profiled in the Countdown articles have indicated that they feel privileged to be working for the International Table Tennis Federation; they feel privileged because they are working for a vibrant organisation and that situation only occurs when the leader is positive, active, creative and forward thinking.

If the ITTF stands still, the organization will go backwards; Adham Sharara is well aware of that fact.

He has been prepared to make “big” decisions, the change to 11 points, the size of the ball et al; he has never been reluctant to respond to a detractor. He has faced challenges head on and provided constructive reasons for the decisions, and if anyone poses a question, he has the response already prepared; he thinks ahead.

Equally, he has gained the confidence of those in the sport; from the very first day I sat in an Executive Committee Meeting one view was respected above all, it was that of Adham Sharara.

The level of trust is reflected in the manner that major decisions in the sport during his tenure of office have been accepted. If Adham makes the proposal, it must be well reasoned; therefore we support him; that has been the opinion of the delegates at the Annual General Meeting time and again!

It is often the case that when a proposal has been rejected on first reading, everyone retires, discussions follow, amendments accrue and two years later the nod is one of approval.

Not at the Annual General Meeting of the International Table Tennis Federation; passed at the first reading!

Personally, I have learned a great deal over the years. To have served during the Adham Sharara ITTF Presidency has been both educational and a privilege.

I hope I can continue and I offer a challenge for Thomas Weikert, the ITTF President elect. I may be criticized but on the introductory page of ITTF.com it reads Upcoming Events, I want that to disappear. Always an international tournament, 365 days or even 366 days a year!

Quietly I bet Adham Sharara agrees; the right index finger is poised. 

Thank you, Ian.  It’s also been a privilege for me to work with you, generating this series on a daily basis.