President LEVITIN: Table tennis has been my passion my whole life
At the ETTU Congress held for a first time online, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia's Igor Levitin was today elected President of the European Table Tennis Union (ETTU) for a four-year term. President Levitin is also member of the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) President’s Advisory Council and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Table Tennis Federation of Russia.
In his first interview as a newly-elected President he talked about the forthcoming challenges.
President LEVITIN, what motivated you to take charge of ETTU in such a delicate moment, when COVID 19 caused one of the biggest crises in our sport?
“Table tennis has been my passion my whole life. I have always felt strongly about ensuring that table tennis in Europe is in the strongest possible position. This was my ambition before COVID-19 and the global pandemic has only strengthened my resolve to help European table tennis overcome the challenges it is facing. I humbly believe that, with the collective experience and expertise of the new ETTU Executive Board, we can deliver the change that European table tennis needs,” explained President LEVITIN.
Where this crisis took us and what is your view of the current situation in Europe table tennis?
“Table tennis like all sports is facing significant challenges because of the current global pandemic. Outgoing President Mr Kramer did a lot for the development of European Table Tennis. But I think everyone in the ETTU family agrees we have a lot more potential we have not yet realised. Now because of the challenges table tennis is facing due to the global Pandemic, it is more important than ever that we encourage innovation and embrace change so we can emerge stronger.”
Your vision of new ETTU comprises two key pillars - innovation and influence. Can you, please, explain us the basic of your mission in future period?
“My vision for the ETTU was developed in collaboration with the ETTU family. I believe we all share a common desire to deliver the change that European table tennis needs at this time to achieve this, the two pillars I identified are: growing sustainably through innovation; and raising the ETTU’s international influence. It is clear to me that if we are going to grow, we must innovate. We must try new things and push boundaries if we are to engage new audiences and expand beyond where we are currently. And if we want to secure our long-term potential we need to raise our influence. We need a stronger voice and to take control of our future.”
You expressed the optimism, during your campaign, that we can seize this opportunity to make the changes to ensure our sport's return even stronger. Your manifesto includes a lot of innovations, literally all the segments of our sport will be affected by the changes and it starts from the engaging a modern generation of fans. Can you explain how to do it?
“If we are going to grow and achieve our potential we must be ambitious. We must strive for excellence and push ourselves collectively. That is why I want to harness the experience and expertise within the ETTU and undertake a review of our sport and explore new competition models. We are living in a digital age, in which sport is consumed in a completely different way to how it was 10 or 20 years ago. We need to respond to these changes and maximise the opportunities they present to put fan engagement, particularly young fans, at the forefront of our attention. Whether they are a spectator, a viewer or a participant, we need to concentrate our efforts on keeping today’s youth excited and involved. Just as the ITTF is doing with World Table Tennis, we need to be ambitious and ensure we elevate European table tennis to new standards.”
The level of development between European member Associations is very different and you proposed the innovations that will help smaller federation. How can we help them?
“As you say, our Member Federations are at different stages of development. We need to recognise that and provide opportunities for our developing federations. Because the stronger they are, the stronger European Table Tennis is as a whole. I have proposed launching an ETTU tournament for smaller federations, who are the majority in Europe, so that they have regular opportunities to compete and develop their athletes. This is something we will be working on in the future.”
Professional players and coaches are also included in your mission. You announced you will make sure their voices to be heard?
“Athletes are at the heart of our sport and coaches are vital to their development Therefore it is critical we listen to our athletes and coaches so they can guide the development of our sport. I want to ensure our event formats, competitions calendars, anti-doping policies and much more are all developed with athletes in mind. Athletes and coaches need to be represented not only in Athletes and Coaches Commissions but also in our working bodies so they can contribute to the building process of a stronger Europe. I would like to thank Vladimir Samsonov for his intent and interest in ETTU work. I am sure he will bring a valuable view from the athletes’ side.”
What is your vision of the future of European Championships?
“The European Championships can play a major role in helping us attract young people to play and stay in table tennis. I would therefore like to secure financial investments to improve the organisation and presentation of the European Youth Championships. In addition, I plan to allocate my Presidential compensation to increase prize money to support active participation in the ETTU Under 18 and Under 15 Championships. All together this will help improve the pathway for young talent from across Europe and attract more young people to our sport. “
How can we improve Championships League?
“The Champions League is the most high-profile club competition in Europe and is very important in promoting table tennis at a national level, but I believe we can raise the level of the event even further to make it one of the most interesting and exciting table tennis events in the world. One way of doing that is to incentivise the best European teams and players to keep competing in it. I intend on exploring creating a sponsorship programme to do just that.”
You have good experience with the changes in the Russia's League; can we expect any discussion about new rule changes in Europe?
“The Russian league has shown us how changes to competition formats can be very successful, and other federations are also implementing effective changes. But we are not committed to any specific changes. As I said, we will undertake a gradual review of the rules of our sport and explore new competition models. I am open to any change or innovation that will deliver the most exciting and engaging sport for our fans and be competitive compared to other sports.”
The gap between Asia and Europe is wider, is there any solution to narrow it in recent future?
“The gap between Asia and Europe is something we are committed to decreasing. One way to address this is to attract more important events to Europe with higher ranking points. At the moment European players are forced to regularly travel to Asia and have few opportunities to compete internationally on home soil. This needs to change. We need to use the current situation with Covid to organise more continental tournaments in Europe. Hosting more high-profile events in Europe will not only benefit our athletes and member associations but also attract more fans to our sport.”
After the four years term, what will be the result that will please you as a ETTU President?
“Quite simply, that the ETTU and European table tennis is in a stronger position than it is today. That we have worked together to grow our sport sustainably through innovation. And that we have raised the ETTU’s international influence across our sport ensuring our interests are represented in the ITTF’s plans for World Table Tennis and beyond. It is my ambition that we will have attracted more young people to become professional players, drawn more people to watch our sport and generated more revenues to reinvest into the ETTU family,” stated President Igor LEVITIN.