|Featured Profile: International Table Tennis Federation President Thomas Weikert|
|Profile of the week|
Three weeks away from the Olympic Games in Rio, iSportconnect caught up with the President of the International Table Tennis Federation, Thomas Weikert to discuss how prep for Rio was going...
iSC - Thomas, thank you for joining us. How is prep for Rio going?
TW - It's going well. We had a test event in November. We only need a venue, tables, flooring and nets! So we're a bit easier compared to other sports that need water and outside things.
iSC - What about outside the arena - how is everything looking?
TW - Preparation is going well, but for every sport there are some problems with the ticket pre-sale. We want to push the pre-sales better. Of course, Latin America doesn't have a big table tennis tradition, but now they have a good team and I think it's going well.
iSC - Why do you think pre-sales are so poor, across all the sports?
TW - Honestly, they do have problems. They have security problems, everybody thinks it's not secure because of terrorism. I don't share this opinion, but this is how it is. Of course, they have the Zika virus, if you are a woman and get pregnant or you are aged 20 - 40 I can imagine why it would be a worry. Personally, I am not worried, I think they have done what they can. I've been in Africa and they say that they have quite a lot of other problems - they see it a bit differently!
If you are a ticket holder in Europe, you have to travel it is a long way, likewise from Asia, it's difficult. As it comes nearer and nearer, I hope that the pre-sale will get better and better. But of course, you have heard a lot of problems from the Olympics, not good messages. Problems with the surroundings, problems with the buildings, problems with the venues. So, of course, some consider not to go, I think this is a problem. I think they have to do a lot, table tennis is doing a lot, to promote the event - other Olympic sports are doing the same.
iSC - It's a very difficult time for the Olympic community - is it fair to say trust in sport is at an all-time low?
TW - There are a lot of scandals of course. I'm German and we had a lot of problems in Germany because there was a bid for 2024 [in Hamburg] and people said 'No - no Olympics here'. It's too big an event, too many costs, too many scandals, athletes have problems with doping, the officials get a lot of money, and there is a lot of corruption. "It's on the IFs and the IOC now to make a real break. To push, to force, to show everyone - we have a clean sport and are doing a lot. In the area of doping, it starts there. The IOC said "Ok with the Russian federations, it's a big problem'. But it's not only the Russians. You cannot say all the Russians are guilty. This is a big problem, also in other sports. But you have to do a lot. I think for doping and corruption, the IOC have to check. My colleague and fellow German Thomas Bach is doing a good job - he knows that we have to fight more and more."
ISC - How big an issue is doping for table tennis?
TW - For us, it's not a big problem. You can never say 'We have no doping problem', but the most important thing is that you work against doping... In Germany, I was President of the German Table Tennis Federation for 10 years. I pushed a lot in Germany that there is a new anti-doping law, which is now in effect. In the beginning [of my ITTF Presidency] only two national federations were in favor of this law, now it is in effect. When I started as President, and when I served as vice-President, I pushed a lot for tighter doping rules, as did my predecessor. We are the clean sport. We have some sponsors like Leaper and they say that you are the clean sport - and we are a sponsor because you have no doping issues, or that you ensure you have no gambling, no match fixing, no doping and no corruption. I think this is a big advantage of our sport. We have no big scandals. Of course, we have to learn from other associations and now they have to learn to prevent such scandals from happening again. You know about football, you know about athletics, these are really severe things, and we must prevent them.
iSC - Regarding doping, do you think table tennis is a bit lucky, insofar as it's a sport not based on muscle mass, so it’s less vulnerable to doping?
TW - We are a bit lucky on that front. You can never say never. It could happen. But if you have a positive case, you must handle it, to fight against it. I believe our sport is clean, but you can never say never. So you have to find ways with the staff to fight against it.
iSC - For you personally, it looks like it is going to be a challenging first Olympic Games as ITTF President!
TW - It is more difficult of course than in London. We had a fantastic Games in London. We also had a fantastic Games in Beijing, especially for table tennis because of the tradition in China. I wasn't expecting such a big success of table tennis in London, but it was. The other things, the friendly volunteers, the venues, the traffic, all of it was perfect. We didn't hear anything about London before the Games, only some small problems - which are standard at such a big event. Now we hear about a lot of problems. I am a little concerned, but I am optimistic. The Olympic spirit will come, we know the guys who are working on the table tennis, they are really good. The volunteers are also passionate. But we do have problems and every organization has to find ways to overcome them. We are working heavily on social media and we are making a promo now. So let's wait - I am an optimist!
iSC - The Olympics must be a great chance to engage with Latin America, where table tennis is not as popular as in other territories.
TW - For us, it is a chance. We have worked a lot with the Brazilian federation, luckily both of their teams are doing better and better. They have a young women's star, we'll see how she does, and the men's team is really strong. They could cause a surprise. Latin America isn't the biggest spot for table tennis, but now it is really a chance and we are really looking forward to having something. We will also do things after the Games. You can't have the Games, a fantastic event, and then do nothing. We have to do something in Latin America and we know that. We will do a lot with social media and print media, we will also work on education, we will send coaches there, have training courses there. We also have new projects after the Olympics, probably together with China, The goal is that players from Latin America, from Africa and from North America can be in the top 10 of the world, which is currently not the case. We will work on that after the Games.
iSC - Finally, what are you hopes for the event?
TW - I hope that the venue, at the minimum at the semi-final and final stage, is sold out. I hope 'the other world', that means away from China, will have a strong fight against the Chinese. Not because the Chinese are guilty of being too good, but of course it will be interesting to the media and all the world if we will have good fights for the win. China against Europe: maybe Germany, Sweden and also Japan and Korea. There is a good chance we will have good fights, we saw that at the last world championship, so I am optimistic.