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

By Sheri Cioroslan | June 30, 2014, 5 p.m. (ET)

Day 63, June 30 - The President’s Views on the Ban of Speed Glue, Part II

“For me, the total ban of toxic glue was a no-brainer.”

Yesterday ITTF President Adham Sharara began sharing his views about speed glue, or “toxic” glue.  Today we’ll bring to conclusion the rest of the details about the ITTF’s ultimate ban on speed glues.

Yesterday I began by asking you, “How did you feel about the total ban of speed glue during your presidency?”  You then shared with us a very fascinating story about how you first got introduced to a racket assembled with speed glue.  Today let’s discuss how the ITTF went about banning what everyone calls “speed glue.”

In the period before my presidency, there was already a lot of talk about banning toxic glues. In 1991 the ITTF President at the time, Mr. Ogimura, was a strong advocate for banning the so-called “speed glues.”  In fact, the glues containing VOCs were actually banned in 1992 by the Executive Board, based on reports provided by experts and scientists proving the negative health effects of long-term use of VOC glues. However, when the ITTF Council had to ratify the decision during its 1992 meeting, something amazing happened.

After a detailed report by an expert from Scotland, I thought that the total ban would be the obvious decision. But there was a lot of political pressure and resistance from some top associations. There was also a question that could not be answered, “How would the ITTF control the ban?”  The ITTF was, unfortunately, not well prepared and there was no answer to this question. Also, the political pressure was too much and the total ban of VOC glues did not happen.

So then what happened?

Dr. Rufford Harrison, the then-Equipment Committee Chairman, and one of the most logical and lucid persons I have ever met, proposed at least a limitation on the type of glues used and the removal of the most toxic components such as Hexane, Toluene and 2 others. He also proposed a method to detect these four toxic VOCs using the Draeger Tube method. Basically a racket would be placed in an enclosed space (a plexiglass box with a small door) and a Draeger Tube would be inserted in an opening in the top of the box, and, if a reaction would occur (change in colour of the content of the tube), then it would prove that a highly volatile VOC was present. Since the tolerance level was still very high, many other substitute VOCs could still be used. The ITTF started to test glues for approval, and also to test rackets at main competitions. That was how the era of “racket control” started. Although I heard rumours that a Korean player’s racket tested positive at the 1993 WTTC’s in Sweden, no official report was ever made.

At the 1995 World Championships in Tianjin, I was freshly elected as Vice President, and had the pleasure to attend my first Executive Committee meeting, which was called as an “emergency meeting.” We were told that a positive test was officially reported and that the player at fault was Kim Taek Soo. We were asked to decide what to do, and the newly elected President, Lollo Hammarlund (See Countdown Day 86) suggested that we talk to the player and his association. We all agreed. Both the player and the association said that it was a mistake, and that the error was not intentional. I sincerely believed they were telling the truth, but the player did play with an illegal racket, so the final decision was to disqualify him. He had already reached the semi-final by beating Wang Tao of China. The solution was to promote Wang Tao to the semi-final as that match was scheduled to be televised.

After this incident players were more careful, manufacturers were more careful and, in general, the Draeger Tube method became second nature at ITTF events. This lasted for a while. But then something happened.

And what was that?

We saw photos of young kids sniffing glue.  That was not new.  But then we saw photos of kids sniffing TT glue. Now that was new! We also saw coaches and parents asking their kids to wear gas masks while regluing their rubber. You could also smell the powerful pungent stench of VOCs whenever you would pass by a player or group of players regluing. We also heard of reports of migraine headaches and many other reports started to surface.

In 2004 the Japan TTA, lead by Mr. Koji Kimura, presented numerous reports of the ill-effects of long-term and repeated use of VOCs. At that time the Board of Directors understood the health dangers and decided to accept a 2-step approach leading to a total ban of VOCs. The first step was not to allow gluing in the hall (2005) and the next step was the total ban (2006). This was modified to 2006 and 2007 (one year delay, and then again to 2007 and 2008 (another year delay). As president I went along with these delays due to the strong objection of the Athlete’s Commission who wanted to implement such a change only after the 2008 Olympic Games. But then something happened, again!

And what was that?

Sheri Pittman, President of the USATT at the time, in 2006 introduced me to the work of Dr. Amen.

I did so not know you were going to bring me into this!  But, that’s right.  In 2006, the USOC scheduled an Olympic Assembly in La Jolla, California.  I flew into Los Angeles and spent a night with Glenn Cowan’s mom, Fran, in Los Angeles.  (See Countdown Day 72.)  Then I drove down to La Jolla for the USOC Olympic Assembly.  Afterwards I drove up to Newport Beach and met with Dr. Daniel Amen at his office for a few hours.  He presented me with a few books and I asked him to autograph a book or two for you as well.  Then, I drove to the Los Angeles airport, dropped off the rental car, and flew into the Bay Area for the site visit with Dennis Davis and Anne Cribbs for the 2007 Junior World Championships.  (See Countdown Day 66.) You and Mikael Andersson were there on the ITTF’s behalf.  (See Countdown Day 67.)  So it was there and then that I gave you Dr. Amen’s book, Making a Good Brain Great. 

Yes, so that’s how it was that I started to read his books starting with Making a Good Brain Great, which was published in 2005. I was fascinated by Dr. Amen’s claim that table tennis was a great activity for the brain. But I knew that already by the reports published in Japan and promoted by Mr. Hikosuke Tamasu.  (See Countdown Day 98.)  

But what fascinated me even more was Dr. Amen’s claim of the ill-effects of not only drugs (obvious) but also – and especially -- VOCs on the brain!

That caught my attention.  “What?? VOCs have a negative effect on the brain?” I was stunned. Through you, Sheri, I got more information from Dr. Amen and even brain scans. It became obvious to me, this was a “no-brainer,” excuse the pun.

I’m glad I could be of service on this!  I notice in checking my files that Dr. Amen also drafted a letter to the ITTF detailing his concerns. 

I immediately started a campaign, supported by Mr. Kimura and others to bring back the total ban to 1 July 2007 rather than September 2008. The ITTF’s Executive Committee agreed to this proposal to be put forward to the Board of Directors at its meeting in Zagreb in April 2007. We distributed the power-point presentation given to us by Dr. Amen, and we explained clearly the dangers of the use of high dosage of VOCs. (Attached on Countdown Day 65.)  We also had some reports from Japan regarding the hospitalization of a player. But it was not clear if the player was hospitalized because of VOCs or because of an allergy to rubber.

In any case, at the BoD meeting the Athlete Commission Chair at the time spoke against the earlier date (1 July 2007) mainly for technical reasons. Also, all the top associations preferred to delay the total ban till after the Olympics, again for technical and performance reasons.

So then how did you feel about postponing the decision until after the Olympics in 2008?

Mr. Kimura and I were very disappointed that some ITTF officials and top players would have rather favoured enhanced technical performance over the risk of damaged brains. But we accepted the decision and started to prepare for the total ban after the Olympic Games. Already in 2005 Mr. George Segun was entrusted with the task of finding a detection method and determining the VOC threshold limits. The rest, you all know: Enez, Elize, RAE, Mini-Rae, etc.

In any case, the ultimate result is that we now have a clean and VOC-free sport.

Yes, and I am very proud that we have a clean sport.

Now, the next challenge is to create an even-playing field for all players and to ensure that all players have the same opportunities with their equipment. The ITTF is now working hard to introduce a “rebound-limit” for rackets to eliminate the uncertainty of the use of boosters and tuners. Together with the Athletes’ Commission we are also considering accepting thicker rubbers (4.5mm) as a counterbalance to the rebound-limit. (See Countdown Day 68.) Tests are underway.

Table Tennis is evolving all the time, so what’s new?

This has been a fascinating explanation of all of the drama involved in banning toxic glues from our sport.  I want to thank you for acknowledging my role, even though I totally didn’t expect it.  I agree: it’s great that we have a clean sport!