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

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

Day 69, June 24 - Thomas Weikert Speaks about Peace and Sport

“When you become personally involved, it is easier to identify yourself with other people.”

Peace & Sport
Leandro Olvech, Joël Bouzou and Thomas Weikert

In this latest set of Countdown articles, the focus has been on a unique characteristic of the ITTF, which is its long-running commitment to PEACE and sports diplomacy.  Along those lines, you mentioned in our last interview that you see value in being able to propose compromises and make compromises.  Coming from a large and successful association, you also alluded to the smaller associations being near to your heart. 

Now, as you are about to lead the ITTF, a Federation with 220-affiliated associations, this topic seems quite relevant.  

Could you share with us how you initially started to become aware of these concepts in your life?

My father, Berthold, used to be the authorized person at the city of Limburg - where I was born and raised - in charge of people applying for asylum from the 1990s until about 2005. We received many visitors from abroad in our place and also visited them, my Dad and me.  We listened to people’s needs who had just arrived in Germany.  And we tried to help, for example, find places for them to live.

That opened my eyes to the needs of people from other countries who are not always able to help themselves due to many circumstances they cannot influence by themselves. When you become personally involved, it is easier to identify yourself with other people, understand their problems and their way of thinking. Their needs are no longer abstract demands, but things that you yourself find absolutely necessary from their point of view.

Anyway, that period also taught me that you cannot implement everything that you find essential. There are also other opinions, sometimes completely opposed ones, which need to be considered.

As you became more involved with table tennis and our sport’s commitment to these values, what were your initial impressions about the value of sports diplomacy?

Sports diplomacy is mostly unofficial diplomacy. It connects people on a personal level. They can share common passions and common interests. If the fields of politics or economics are tender points, you can bring in sports.

Talking about table tennis, even better playing it, is ideologically innocent. Table tennis is spread all over the world and easy to start with, no matter if you are man or woman, able-bodied or disabled, a kid or an older person, rich or poor, from an upper or lower class. In addition, table tennis is played by world-class athletes who are highly skilled and well-trained sportspeople to whom “fair-play” is not just a word. They are elite ambassadors of their countries every time they visit a different area of the world, and they are ambassadors of our sport, too.

The best example was, of course, Ping-Pong Diplomacy in the early 1970s. It started with the exchange of table tennis players from the United States and from China who got in touch at the 1971 World Championships in Nagoya, Japan, and peaked in Richard Nixon meeting Mao Zedong and a harmonization of the two countries. In diplomacy sport can be a powerful force. The ITTF has used it and also will use in the future. 

I understand that the DTTB (the German TTA) was a partner in the ITTF’s “Ping Pong Paix” (“Ping-Pong for Peace”) in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Could you tell us more about how the DTTB became involved in the program? And could you speak about both the tangible and intangible accomplishments associated with the initiative?  

For many years already, the DTTB has been involved in development programs. When we were preparing to host the 2012 World Team Championships in Dortmund, we thought a special contribution would fit in perfectly into our concept of combining world-class and public sports plus development. We were also sure that the framework of the World Championships would draw some more attention to the ITTF Development Program in general.

"Ping Pong Paix" focused on two villages in the Democratic Republic of Congo and two villages in neighbouring Burundi. In these areas there were tribal conflicts and children were abused as soldiers.

In December 2011, an Olympic Solidarity Technical Course was conducted there with Sweden's Peter Karlsson, 2000 European Singles Champion, being present as part of the "Champions for Peace" project promoted by Peace and Sport. As a sponsor, Butterfly supplied table tennis tables, rackets, balls and shirts. 

In addition, young players and local officials were guests of the DTTB at the World Championships in Germany, as a way to provide new experiences to them and their table tennis community. While they were in Dortmund, they got to play some table tennis, got to know the city a little, and followed the matches of the pros and met some stars, for example, Timo Boll, personally.

After the Championships, with the help of the German Department of Foreign Affairs, we sent equipment packages (tables, nets, and balls) to the four villages in order to create a sustainable program there.  That the ITTF won the SportAccord Spirit of Sport Award with “Ping Pong Paix” was a nice extra and politically very important for our sport and the Federation.

But you received the real proof that the project was a big success when you looked into the children’s eyes, saw them playing table tennis and having a great time.

Are there some other examples of sports diplomacy or special development programs that the DTTB has engaged in?

Quite a long time ago the DTTB took over patronage for the Table Tennis Association of Namibia. The initiator was our sadly deceased colleague at the DTTB Executive Committee, Hans Giesecke. As a former Vice President of the ITTF, he knew about the difficult conditions for table tennis enthusiasts in Africa. 

Together with Namibian TTA President Mrs. Sigrid Göbel, the DTTB developed a cooperation concept, which has also been promoted by the German NOC since 2003. We mainly contribute material and know-how, for example, coaches and professionals in administrative processes who pass on their knowledge during workshops. In addition to Namibia, German coaches have also recently been to Togo, Djibouti, and Malawi. These projects were also supported by the German NOC.

In addition, the DTTB has been involved in the development program of the ITTF since 2006 by providing equipment packages every year. 

Thank you very much for sharing your views on Peace and Sport and the ITTF’s development program.