Thomas Weikert is a practicing lawyer with a focus on family and sports law and as an athlete he played in the Bundesliga in the 1980s. He rose through the ranks in the German Table Tennis Federation where he started as chairman of the Audit Board in 1995, while in December 2001, he served as Acting Secretary-General. From2002 he worked as a legal adviser, while he took charge of the federation as President on June 2005 in Frankfurt. Apart from administering table tennis, Weikert worked in his own law firm in Limburg, it was during his tenure that Germany became the only country to have challenged the dominance of China in world table tennis. On January 2014, Weikert as the deputy President of the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) took over from Canada’s Adham Sharara as the 7th ITTF President. The father of one said in Algiers during the ITTF African Junior Championship that attention would be given to development in 2017 with Africa being part of the plans.

 

As the table tennis number one citizen in the world, Thomas Weikert, is not a novice to the sport having played in the German Bundesliga and also administered the sport in his native country, Weikert knowledge of the sport cannot be underestimated.

As a special guest at the just concluded at the ITTF African & Cadet championship in Algiers, Weikert thumbed up the organizers for putting up a good show. “My first time in Africa was in Egypt for the World Cadet Challenge in 2015 and this is my second time in Algiers. In my overall and summary of the Algiers tournament, I have a very good impression. Initially there was issue with the flooring because they were delivered too late. I can say that the venue was nice and the fans enthusiasm coupled with the quality of the matches made it glamorous. I also think the standard has improved although that is not the standard we will like to have finally. It is not the optimum and at the end it is just a question of money. If you have the flooring, the look of the venue will be much better and it will be good in terms of marketing. Overall, I am satisfied and we could improve but I must say that it is a question of money which is important for development.”

He however admitted that the paucity of equipment in some African countries has prevented the growth of the sport in the continent, but he said: “I see problems with smaller nations in Africa and this is an issue of equipment. Of course I think we need education in terms of coaching and women involvement in the sport. We want many women to be involved in the sport and we will try and do something to attract more women to the sport. At ITTF we will continue to support Africa to grow the game as well as to engage more women in the development of the sport. As Nigeria and Egypt are the best playing nations in Africa, they must not look down on other nations but see how they can support them and that is where ITTF will not come in to aid the support,” he added.

Continuing he said: “Women involvement is an issue we are focusing on. We are going to work on this with the development department of ITTF. We have a plan of 2017 to 2020 for development which we are going to focus on education and this is a major thing for us.”

To attract more sponsors to the sport, Weikert said: “At the Olympic, we are rated in Group C which means we have improved from D to C, which I think is good for us. But we want to create opportunity to get more money, which we can spend on Africa and other countries. The big nations might not need development but focus on weaker nations for development of the sport.”

The ITTF boss however, admitted that the dominance of China may not be good for the sport, but he argued, “Domination of China in the sport is not their fault that they are strong. But we have to do something to close the gap by encouraging more training and practice by other nations. China also has to open up and which they have by sending coaches all over the world. China must be ready to work for ITTF and ITTF too must be willing to assist China. We also want to work with stronger nations in Europe to develop the sport across the globe. Also, I must say that it is a question of money by looking for sponsors.”

On the new format for the ITTF World Tour, he said: “We will be having a new structure for World Tour and I can say that ITTF hopes to give more right to the organizers to source for sponsors. As a matter of fact, we have five Super Series in Asia and only one in Europe. We must have a Super Series in Australia or Africa and this is the goal and with the new structure, we will give more right to the organizers because it is a question of money.”

On the plans to prune the number of countries attending the World Team championship by making it more competitive, Weikert said: “We have built a World Group to fashion out a new format for the World Team Championship. All the six continental presidents are in the Working Group and we must to make the bidding for the tournament more competitive. The ITTF Board of Directors (BoD) has decided that the tournament must be a maximum of 72 teams that mean we need a good qualification system in order to attract countries to fight to qualify just like it has been happening in football and other sports. We must have a good system to qualify to be at the tournament.”

On attracting the big media like the CNN to ITTF-organised tournaments, the ITTF chief said: “This is not a problem because we have chances to sell our TV rights and this depends on competition and if China wins all the titles, it may be difficult. I think at the last World Championship in Malaysia, we have a good TV figures in Asia and Europe and we have to work to get more TV in Africa and other continents as well.”

For Weikert, administering one of the top five sports in the world has been very interesting and challenging. “I think it is really interesting. We have the strong nations like in Asia we have China, South Korea, Japan, while in Europe we have Germany, France, Russia and Portugal. The gap between China and Europe is great and the gap between China and Africa and Latin America is quite big. But being a competitive sport, things have improved because players from Africa are now doing well and this year for the first time, we will have two players from Africa competing at the ITTF World Cup based on their world ranking and this is a big success for Africa. Also the women have improved like Dina Meshref of Egypt. There are some well-structured national associations in Africa like Egypt, Algeria, and Tunisia among others. There is also a gap between the best nations in Africa and the weaker nations. The plan for us was to be the top five sports in the world and we are 222 national associations and the goal was to popularize table tennis all over the world.”

Aside being in charge of ITTF, the practicing legal practitioner is a husband and father while admitting it sometimes difficult to combine the roles but with support from his family, things are jellying. “It is sometimes difficult to combine my profession as a lawyer to being the ITTF President as well as a family man. I travel a lot now but the new system of working through the internet has made it very easy for me. I don’t have to work a lot with the new system and I still see my clients. I travel a lot before I became ITTF President and my family loves sports because my son loves to play table tennis while my wife is also passionate about sports. We are all interested in sports and sometimes my family accompanies me to events while my wife is also a lawyer like myself and we were supposed to come to Algiers together. I hope to be with them at the Olympic Games in Brazil.”

However, the ITTF boss believes the scintillating performance of Aruna Quadri at the 2014 ITTF World Cup in Dusseldorf, has once again brought Africa and Nigeria to global attention.

“I am conversant with the quality of Nigerian players having played alongside Sunday Eboh, Francis Sule as well as Olawunmi Majekodunmi in the Bundesliga. I had partnered Eboh and Sule in the doubles while Atanda Musa’s prowess in the game cannot be ignored as well. But I must say that they (Nigerians) are very unique in their style of play. They are very good technically with top spin which is very synonymous with them even the new generation of players is endowed with the quality of the former players. They are also very athletics with fantastic forehand but they need to improve on their backhand.”

Recalling the beautiful display of Aruna Quadri in 2014, he said: “I was really surprised that Aruna Quadri could beat some of the top players in the world and this really endeared him to the heart of German fans. He was such an incredible player with his fantastic forehand which singled him out among all the players at the 2014 ITTF World Cup. I think being among the top sometime very difficult and I think he has started stabilizing now. He has qualified for the Rio Olympic Games as well as the 2016 World Cup. I think for the first time, we will be having two African players at the World Cup based on their ranking.”

Weikert believes just like China and Germany are driving the development of table tennis in Asia and Europe, Nigeria and Egypt should be able to accelerate the development of the sport in Africa.

“I think Egypt and Nigeria are the best table tennis nations in Africa and they also have a good structure. Egypt is the Chinese of Africa while Nigeria is like the Germans but these two countries have to help other weak nations to grow and improve in the sport. But I must admit that Egypt has the financial potential than every other nation and they have to do what China and Germany are doing to weak nations across the globe. I am not familiar with the financial potential of Nigeria but I know they have quality players that can compete with the world’s best. They have also improved a lot at junior levels based on what I saw in Algiers and they don’t need to relax but continue to train and expose their players to top class tournaments in order to give them the needed exposure early,” he counseled.

Based on what he has read and heard about the annual Nigerian Open, Weikert says, “I know that the Nigerian Open is a very good organized tournament based on what I have heard and read and we hope it can be sustained so that we can more of such tournaments in Africa because we need more of them.”