2023! We at the ITTF Group are genuinely excited about this new year! We believe that a very exciting period is ahead and that it will be the busiest year we have ever seen.
In 2020 – it seems like a lifetime ago – I wrote about the need for us to prepare for when the pandemic would be over, that the sports industry should be ready for the new normal life beyond. My main point, although it was quite a provocative message at the time, was that we should look at the “silver lining” of the situation.
Recently, China more or less lifted final restrictions, making travel flows in and out of the country less restrictive. This is important news for table tennis, as it is by far our largest market.
So, are we now at the end of the pandemic and how are we positioned? Are we ready for 2023? I believe we are. Our extensive efforts, both before and during the pandemic, will allow us to capitalize on our hard work.
With the clear strategic direction of the new Board of Directors, the ITTF Group team has a certain path to follow in the coming months. It will enable us to make meaningful progress toward our goals, positioning us for success.
Firstly, continuing our work to professionalize the events for the athletes and the fans. We didn’t stop in our pursuit or belief in the new World Table Tennis platform. This evolution has been a fundamental need of the sport for years leading up to the pandemic and while it slowed us down, and while some asked us to reconsider or even give up, we didn’t.
We fought through the pandemic and politics to start 2021 at about 20% of planned activity. In 2022, with only 40% of the activity, we broke all commercial revenue records. This is proof that the bold, ambitious plans we had through World Table Tennis are the way to go.
In 2023 we will be close to 75% of a full world table tennis calendar and we are very confident that we will have a full calendar in 2024. Getting through the pandemic was super important so that now that it’s over, we’re ready to fully capitalize. This gives us a very cheerful start to the new year.
In fact, I expect the majority of all ITTF Group activities to be back in full by 2023.
Development programs that have been largely carried out behind the scenes in recent years are now taking on a new shape, a new name and back to the field. The ITTF Foundation will also largely be able to return to more physical activities. In fact, our lessons on how to use technology during the pandemic years will allow our activities to touch even more people and affiliates than in the past.
The qualification system for our World Championships will finally be able to take priority again. During the last General Meeting of Members, several associations expressed their frustration that they could not participate in the World Cup. Our goal should be for all 227 member associations to participate in the World Championships in one form or another. This was always the aim of the reforms implemented in 2018 to launch the first edition in 2021. Now that the pandemic is behind us, elected officials and staff can once again bring this concept to the fore.
TTX will start a comeback in 2023. Some countries like Italy and Uganda already embraced the concept and fell in love with it. With a more coordinated effort, a calendar of events, a platform to roll out, and with people starting to come together again, the timing is right.
Another frontier will be to professionalize our para and veterans activities and make necessary changes in these areas so that they too can get a business model behind their events. I’m sure here, with the lessons of World Table Tennis, it won’t be that hard to adapt, innovate and follow in the footsteps.
The ITTF summit will return, announced at this stage for the end of August. After a successful first edition in 2022, there are already plans to make the next version even more attractive, bigger and with more involvement from more stakeholders. A fantastic new addition to the ITTF’s growing range of offerings.
And what other innovations can we expect in the future? With the reopening of the “Home of Table Tennis” process, this is a great opportunity for us to bring back a few key projects now.
Academies to train future stars in our sport will be crucial to the overall development of the game, but more importantly to the growth of World Table Tennis. This is most evident on the women’s side of the sport, now dominated by two countries, which we desperately need to watch. A great project for our High Performance initiatives within our sport and the new representatives of the Athletes Committee.
Another area that we can develop together with Academies with the new Home of Table Tennis approach has to do with the technical development of the sport. Through a lab, we need a much more holistic approach than ever before to link the role of table tennis equipment, the rules of the sport and its impact on players and their performance. Never before have we linked these very important factors in our studies of the future of our sport – now we need to ensure that every rule change takes all factors into account.
As the world emerges from the pandemic and transitions to the new normal, it may be an opportune time for the ITTF to reevaluate its partnerships and position itself for long-term success. Other governing bodies around the world have recognized the benefits of a fully integrated organization, and the ITTF must ensure that its own structure does not lead to multiple bodies with similar interests competing for the same resources.
Like I said, 2023 is going to be busy. But also super exciting; with postponed projects coming back and new initiatives we start from scratch.
This requires a strong understanding that while we have continued to expand our human resources in recent years, it was with a prudent approach. While we will certainly continue to suffer from a covid hangover and the war in Ukraine, we need to grow faster in 2023 to handle the increased activity.
Together with the new leadership, a new master plan will be drawn up in the coming months to ensure the long-term health of our sport after the pandemic. With improved alignment, continued support from our elected officials and still a lot of hard work, our sport will once again make great strides to catch up with other big sports.
The silver lining of a few years ago can now be achieved. The year 2023 – and 2024 – is the time to prove that, and we will show that our sport has reached many levels.
CEO of the ITTF group