“Now is the time to be more creative”

The end of August is proving to be a busy month for the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) and its president Petra Sörling (pictured above). Last week, the Swede attended the summit and general assembly of the organization in Bangkok. She then set her bag down in China to initial a deal awarding the city of Chengdu the next five editions of a new World Cup.

Meanwhile, the former table tennis player, who in November 2021 became the third woman president of an international federation of an Olympic sport – after Marisol Casado in triathlon and Annika Sørenstam in golf – answered questions from FrankGames.

FranzJeux: The ITTF General Assembly last week awarded London the hosting of the World Table Tennis Championships in 2026, the centenary year of the event and the organization. What does this victory of the capital of England, which rivaled Bangkok, inspire in you?

Petra Sorling : both offers – London and Bangkok – were of very high quality. And we were wonderfully received and treated at the ITTF Summit and General Assembly last week in Thailand. But returning to 2026 London, where it all began a century earlier, means a lot for table tennis. During the presentation in London, I could see how motivated the British were to organize truly extraordinary worlds.

What else do you remember from this second edition of the ITTF Summit?

The first summit in Jordan last year was primarily an opportunity for the table tennis family to come together for the first time since the pandemic began. This year’s summit in Bangkok was marked by very rich and productive sessions. The online intervention of the IOC Director of Sustainable Development, Maria Sallua, was notable. Delegates talked about it a lot afterwards, during the summit, not only in the sessions dedicated to the topic. When I hear people talking about sustainability and environmental issues during recess, I tell myself as president that we are right.

What will be your priority in the next 10 or 11 months before the Paris 2024 Games?

Now everything will revolve around preparation for the Olympics. We want the event to be something unusual for table tennis, to present it in a new way. We are working hand in hand with OCOG Paris 2024. They gave a presentation during the general assembly in Bangkok. At the same time, athletes must be able to qualify and prepare in the best conditions. Therefore, our main priority is to organize as many tournaments as possible.

How do you plan to present table tennis in a new way next year with Paris 2024 OCOG?

Our desire to innovate is shared by the organizing committee. We encourage them to think of different things and they encourage us to think of a new presentation. The novelty will be through the colors, the music, the way of engaging the public… But the innovation will affect not only table tennis. The opening ceremony on the Seine is undoubtedly the best illustration of the desire to try things that have never been offered before. At the same time, attention is also paid to sustainability. These games can help the Olympic movement and therefore the ITTF to move forward.

From the 2020 Tokyo Games, table tennis has five medal types, with the addition of mixed doubles. Do you want more?

Of course. We always want more, especially in a sport like table tennis, which is on the program almost from the first day to the last of the games. For the next games in Los Angeles in 2028, we want to be creative and see what we can add without increasing the number of players.

Are you thinking about returning to doubles, men’s and women’s?

Not only. When I see how basketball with 3×3 and volleyball with beach volleyball have taken over other areas, I tell myself that it is time for us to be more creative and explore new avenues. I have no answer. But I think we need to prioritize this issue. Maybe it will finally succeed in campaigning for the return of the doubles, but maybe something much more innovative will happen in the future.

Since the creation of the ITTF, table tennis has never had a president of the organization who was also a member of the IOC. Could you be the first? Is that the goal?

Since being elected as President, it has been my goal to bring the ITTF and table tennis closer to the Olympic movement. It would be a dream for me to be a member of the IOC. But we are not there yet. We need to start by thinking about how we can organize more and more events and work closely with the rest of the Olympic movement. I think we have already made some progress. I was recently elected to the board of ASOIF, where we are also more present in the commissions. IOC Seung-min Ryu is the vice-chairman of the Athletes’ Commission and a member of five other commissions. When I came to the ITTF in 2009, we had little connection with the Olympic movement. Today we tightened the bonds. And I can’t wait for us to go even further.

Georgie Collins

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