At the recent Team World Cup in Tokyo, ITTF President Thomas Weikert and CEO Steve Dainton shared their thoughts on the key areas in which the organisation has committed itself to ensure a brighter future for international table tennis.
In light of the projects launched since 2017, growth in the organisation and a keen desire to expand the industry as much as possible in the medium to long-term future, Weikert and Dainton discussed where the ITTF has invested significant financial and human resources during 2019.
World Table Tennis
At October’s ITTF Executive Committee meeting, the decision was taken to fully go ahead with the new commercial vehicle, World Table Tennis, under the proposed structure presented by the Tender’s Selection Panel.
World Table Tennis will house the ITTF’s core commercial assets from 2021, with the aim to grow the sport in a much more professional way. The benefits are far-reaching and will facilitate more innovative conversations with potential partners, thus enabling the ITTF to modernise its commercial business activities and, ultimately, unlock the full potential of table tennis, so that it can compete among the highest-profile sports in the world.
Steve Dainton: “Through World Table Tennis, we are endeavouring to build a platform that really benefits our athletes and fans, enabling better structured events and higher prize money. Lots of time and resources have gone into this, as it’s a huge project that will revolutionise our sport for good. The professionalisation of our core top products is something that had been missing in our sport – this is a great moment for table tennis.”
Thomas Weikert: “We are committed to following our new strategy. We must be transparent, uphold good governance and make sure that all of our stakeholders can follow our steps forward. We want that players are more satisfied by prize money and events themselves, while we also want to support our members by making more money to reinvest into the development of our key stakeholders.
Future ‘Home of Table Tennis’
At the start of 2019, the ITTF sought interest from cities around the world to become the global ‘Home of Table Tennis’ – a future Headquarters to centralise the ITTF’s workforce and drive the growth of table tennis.
Weikert: “We have grown tremendously as an organisation since June 2017 and we now have over 70 full-time staff members. Our strategy now is to centralise the workforce in one location to allow for more efficient operations. What’s great is that we have received significant interest from some very big cities which interest us.”
Dainton: “We have adopted a professional approach to our search for a future ‘Home of Table Tennis’ with the consultation of Deloitte, Withers LLP and HASSELL. Due to the high level of interest, we are sure that we will end up somewhere great but we needed to make sure we invested in this with a professional approach to ensure we get the best outcome. This won’t just be any old-style headquarters. We want our future property to have plenty of table tennis activity, in contrast to our current home.”
Established in May 2018, the ITTF Foundation grew significantly in 2019, celebrating the inauguration of their headquarters in Leipzig (Germany), in September. From this central base, the Foundation is coordinating CSR activities internationally to help make the world a better place through table tennis.
Weikert: “With the headquarters opening in Leipzig, the ITTF Foundation is hiring more staff and running more projects than ever before, most notably a first ever World Parkinson’s Table Tennis Championships, held in New York. Meanwhile to mark World Table Tennis Day (held every year on 6th April), the ITTF Foundation focused its efforts on the Slum Ping Pong initiative to leave a positive legacy through table tennis in Kampala (Uganda). CSR activities of this kind are set to multiply in future.”
Dainton: “We have added significant extra resources to ensure the Foundation is a success this year. The activities that the Foundation undertake also have a huge social benefit and it is therefore in our interest to ensure that table tennis can also be a tool to ensure positive action in society. We believe that the investment we have made will allow the Foundation to build the team to become more self-sustaining in the future. It must also be noted that from 2019 we also increased significantly our financial investment into our ITTF-led Development Programme to give it a further boost.”
The ITTF is also investing plenty of time into considering to change the current Governance structure in order to embrace the good governance principles of the 21st century, particularly those principles emanating from the IOC Session in Copenhagen 2009 and the subsequent reviews led by the IOC and ASOIF. As the ITTF tries to further professionalise its operations, it realises how important it is to have professional staff working in all areas of the organisation.
Weikert: “The ITTF is currently reviewing the whole constitution, which includes a discussion for a possible change with regard to the participation of the Continental Federations, which would enable them and their leadership to be closer to the main decision-making bodies of the ITTF.”
Dainton: “The ITTF has seen in recent years that the relationship with the Continental Federations, even with more resources provided by the ITTF than ever before, is often not ideal. We believe that this has a lot to do with the current Governance structure. We have therefore invested to set up a platform of Governance that would ensure that the continents are better represented and that our key stakeholders feel more included in future projects.”
Event & Product Innovation
From 2021, the World Table Tennis Championships Finals will adopt a modern format to expand the global footprint and visibility of table tennis. In order to make the transition as smooth as possible, the ITTF has been holding discussions with the Continental Federations.
Dainton: “We have invested plenty of time and resources alongside our Continental Federations to get the structure of the new World Table Tennis Championships Finals right, especially the pre-Finals stages. We have no doubt that 2021 will see the greatest World Championships ever seen, but we are also fully committed to structuring this in a way that works best for our stakeholders. We with our commercial partners will be committed to investing into ensuring this success”.
Weikert: “2019 has been a significant year in terms of our product innovation, not least the launch of the World Veterans Tour – alongside the rise of TTX activities, with amazing events held in Denver (United States) and Rome (Italy) to name just a couple. Additionally, since opening a new office in Cologne (Germany) in September, ITTF Equipment has been busy working on advancements in the sport.”
2019 has been an interesting year for the ITTF, as it has clearly made significant investment into various major projects, for which the results may not be seen tomorrow but which will surely reap their rewards in years to come.
The ITTF looks forward to continuing its progress in all areas over the coming months, leading into an exciting Olympic and Paralympic year with Tokyo 2020, as momentum continues to build towards 2021, where crucial changes will be implemented for the betterment of international table tennis.