Day 86, June 7 - A Review of the ITTF’s First Five Presidents
Adham Sharara is concluding his term as the ITTF’s 6th president on September 1. On that date he will step into the newly-created Chair position. To put his service in perspective, this brief history summarizes the background, goals and achievements of his predecessors.
Ivor Montagu (1926-1967)
Ivor Montagu, at the age of 22, became the ITTF’s first leader. He spoke many languages and used his skills to quickly grow the federation. His goal was to create an inclusive federation, open to all countries in the world. He, therefore, also implemented a strong stance against discrimination.
Early on Montagu noted approvingly that many national associations had strong ties with their National Olympic Committees. But his Olympic ardor wore off after the Berlin Games in 1936 had so emboldened the Nazis. Since our sport was initially primarily a “Jewish sport,” full of highly-beloved champions, the table tennis family uniquely suffered during World War II. Montagu never endorsed a bid to seek our sport’s affiliation with the Olympic program from then on.
Instead he maintained his focus on casting the ITTF as a “world-embracing” organization. Overall, Montagu’s call for peaceful relations and for cross-cultural understanding resulted in just that as World Championships, for example, were held in both western and Communist countries. In that regard, he was unique to his generation.
The ITTF Minutes during Montagu’s tenure reflect great respect and appreciation for his services. Montagu surely knew that the fruits of his labor, an increasing number of national associations, would inevitably steer the sport toward its inclusion in the Olympics.
Roy Evans (1967-1987)
Roy Evans carried on the excellent momentum established by Montagu. At the same meeting in which he was elected president, Evans committed to investigating the possibility of affiliating with the IOC and exploring what implications might result from achieving that objective.
Shortly before the 1971 World Championships in Nagoya, Evans accepted an invitation to visit the People’s Republic of China on his way to Japan. There he proposed to Zhou Enlai that China invite teams to visit their country as a means of reintegrating into the world. The role Evans played in Ping Pong Diplomacy brought him acclaim and he was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1972.
In Nagoya, Evans reported that his investigation revealed that table tennis would have difficulty meeting the IOC’s standard for amateurs. Nonetheless, Evans worked hard to achieve success. Then, with table tennis finally about to debut at the Olympics, Evans was defeated in his 1987 re-election by the bold and iconic Ichiro Ogimura.
Ichiro Ogimura (1987-1994)
Ichiro Ogimura lived life to the fullest. Both his father and his father’s father had died at the age of 32. Life, his time on earth, took on a special meaning to Ogimura.
He won the Men’s World Champion title twice, in 1954 and 1956. He later became a celebrated (and globe-trotting) coach. Ogimura became a legend in Sweden. And, in China, he was able to parlay his contributions and fame to encourage Zhou Enlai to send a team to the 1971 World Championships.
Over time it became clear Ogimura had ambitions to become the ITTF president. In 1987, India was hosting the World Championships during the election year. The fact that Ogimura was assured of significant support from the Asian voting bloc enticed him to challenge Roy Evans for the post
Ogimura became the first and only World Champion (in singles) to become ITTF president.
Montagu had succeeded in establishing a functional and inclusive world federation. Evans had gained Olympic acceptance and stature for the sport. Ogimura was ready to take the next intrepid steps. He tirelessly traveled throughout the world. Ogimura would focus on making every continent feel critical to the ITTF’s future.
Perhaps inspired by the unprecedented financial success of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, Ogimura embarked on marketing as a means of professionalizing table tennis. The growing prize money brought more legitimacy to a sport that had often been marginalized. It also enabled an increasing number of players and promoters to earn a living.
Just as the flurry of growth and activities were developing and unfurling, his time ran out. In 1994, the ITTF family deeply grieved the loss of a much-beloved hero and leader.
Sven-Olof “Lollo” Hammerlund (1994-1995)
The ITTF then tapped its Deputy President, Sven-Olof “Lollo” Hammarlund, as Ogimura’s successor. As summarized in Table Tennis Legends, “Lollo, a noble, open-hearted man of rare human qualities … was dedicated to enhancing the image of the game and to the improvement of playing conditions at tournaments.” But, almost as soon as Lollo stepped into the role, he learned that he, too, was terminally ill. He passed away in 1995.
Xu Yinsheng (1995-1999)
Next to assume the presidential mantle was Xu Yinsheng, a famous ITTF figure ever since China’s early glory days. He was a member of China’s many-times world champion team, both as a player and as head coach. Later he served as president of both the Chinese Table Tennis Association as well as the Asian Table Tennis Union.
Table Tennis Legends characterized Mr. Xu as committed to “help table tennis to prosper even more throughout the world” by mobilizing talent within the ITTF family “to make table tennis competitions more interesting to the spectators, the media and the sponsors.” It was during his term, for example, that the position of Competition Manager was introduced.
Xu Yinsheng is the only living past president. As such, he holds two special ITTF titles: Honorary President and Honorary Life Member.
Tomorrow: A look at President Adham Sharara’s goals and achievements.