Day 35, July 28 - Bruce Burton Will Ascend to the ITTF’s Executive Committee in September
“I have always tried to ensure that I look at each issue through the lens of what is best for the sport.”
How did you get into table tennis?
I first played table tennis in a church hall in my hometown of Twillingate, Newfoundland. From there I continued in high school and university, and eventually competed at the Canadian National Championships as a member of the provincial team.
My administrative involvement began at the age of twenty-one when I was asked to either take over the running of an existing club, or work to restart a near defunct provincial organization. The latter looked like a much more interesting challenge and that led to a pathway that allowed me to become an Executive member of the Canadian Table Tennis Association, then Chairman of the Board for five years and ultimately the President for sixteen years.
My mentor for the vast majority of that time was Margaret Walden and she instilled a real passion for the sport and its history. Those years were particularly fulfilling in no small part because the two top professional employees that I worked with during that time period were Adham Sharara and then Tony Kiesenhofer. One might say that it has been a charmed life that I have led!
On the international scene I have been a member of the ITTF Board of Directors as a Director or Continental President (also previously known as ITTF Continental VP) since 1995. I served as the Chairman of the Veterans’ Working Group that ultimately led to the formation of the Veterans’ Commission and in 2012 was the Chairman of the Jury at the London Olympic Games. For the past three years my focus has also been on a review of the training and evaluation of our table tennis officials with a particular focus on our elite referees.
How can the North American Table Tennis Union help the ITTF be in the Top 5 IFs in the world, and TT be in the Top 5 in sports?
There is no doubt in my mind that our biggest contribution has to be in the area of promotion. North America is a huge potential market for table tennis, but the challenge is to break through the barriers posed by the major professional sports that dominate television coverage as well as marketing possibilities.
We first must raise the level of the presentation of our sport and to that end we are already working closely with the ITTF Marketing Department to do exactly that for our major continental events.
I believe that we also need to host more high-level ITTF events and that will, in part, provide our top athletes with the valuable exposure to elite table tennis that they need. That, along with a serious proposal to start a North American league will hopefully generate a talent pool that will make our marketing and promotion efforts more attainable.
What impact has ITTF President Adham Sharara had on the development of our sport?
I have been in a unique and privileged position to see Adham rise to prominence both in Canada and in the ITTF. As a member of the hiring committee that first welcomed him as a professional employee of Table Tennis Canada, I can truly say that it was one of the easiest decisions that I have ever made! Watching him develop in Canada and then on the international scene has been a real education in leadership at its highest level.
There are so many areas that can be profiled to point to the impact that Adham has made, but for me the defining moment came with the decision to move to a 40 mm ball. This was a difficult task with much opposition, but Adham was persuasive and persistent. It demonstrated that the ITTF was open to innovation and that was a crucial first step towards greater changes to come. These included splitting the World Championships into Team and Individual events, changing the scoring system, and so on.
Adham has professionalized our federation to the point that now we can realistically aim for Top 5 status. The increase in activity, in professional staff, and the growth in competitions and revenues generated speak to the impact his vision has had.
However, above all else I am in awe of his skills in diplomacy. His ability to find compromises and to make all sides feel that they have benefited in a particular outcome has been perhaps his greatest contribution to our development.
What does being on the EC mean to you?
There are certainly mixed emotions as the September 1 start date draws near. I am of course excited to join the EC and to be involved at this level, but there is a certain sadness that accompanies the end of Adham’s ITTF presidency. He will continue to contribute from his position as Chair of the AGM and I am sure he will do everything in his power to make a mark for table tennis on the broader international sports scene.
With Adham’s departure there will be some realignment of the main focus areas for EC members and that should be finalized at the next EC meeting in Nanjing during the Youth Olympic Games. I am looking forward to the challenges that will come my way and certainly to working with the other EC members. During my years of involvement in table tennis I have always tried to ensure that I look at each issue through the lens of what is best for the sport and will certainly continue that in this new position.
Thank you, Bruce. As the saying goes, “When one door closes, another door opens.” Best to you as you assume your new Executive Vice-President role, effective September 1.