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ITTF CEO Gives Recommendations For Sports’ COVID-19 Recovery

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n part two of a two-part interview series, International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) CEO, and World Table Tennis (WTT) director, Steve Dainton, told Ministry of Sport how table tennis and other international sports will recover from the effects of COVID-19 in 2021 and beyond.

Dainton said COVID-19 has meant sporting organisations need to be more targeted and strategic in their approach.

“I think 2021, with all the latest news that is coming out around COVID, is still interesting, because in 2020 you went through that phase of ‘this is a big disaster’ and ‘when will it finish’, to realising this is going to be here for much longer than we hoped, to then having to pivot and see if we could do events in a different way, which we were able to do,” Dainton told Ministry of Sport.

“So we had the restart series, we came back from that series at the end of 2020 quite positive that because we’ve proven we can do it and even had zero COVID cases, making us one of the only sports to have zero COVID cases during that series.

“We came back feeling very buoyant and positive that we can in 2021 have between five or six hubs in 2021.

“One in the Middle East, probably one or two in China, and one or two in Europe leading up to the Olympics which we are really hopeful for because it has already been postponed one time and how the situation in Japan is, it’s really changing day-by-day as well.

“I would say we went from being really hopeful after our first bubble hub, and now at the start of this year with all the news, you’re a little more conservative with hope, but if we talk about the goals of 2021 it would be to try and make sure we can have five or six hubs throughout the year and two or three pre-Olympics and two or three post-Olympics to help make sure we survive.

“Survive is a good word in this 2020 and 2021, it’s still relatively a survival mode,” he said.

Speaking on the hopes of international competitions returning to the pre-COVID-19 normal in 2021, Dainton said international competitions are filled with question marks and ongoing challenges.

“For us sports, the major problem is the environmental factor we can’t control, which is all related around COVID and the logistics of travel, the logistics of movement, the quarantine situations and the different regulations of each country, which are out of our control,” Dainton said.

“So if we can survive this year and hope the vaccine is effective in solving a lot of those problems in 2021, then 2022/23 we would like to be back on track of where our projections where when we wanted to start WTT in 2021.

“That means a regular calendar of events, 30-40 events spread around the world in 2021 and the same in 2022.

“We will just take it that we lost one or two years in that trajectory where we expected we would be now,” he said.

When asked what advice he would give to other international sporting organisations in their hopes of a COVID-19 recovery in 2021 and beyond, Dainton said: “You have to think really differently, and you have to be very open minded about your approach on making events.”

“We often try to make events around very traditional methods and processes, but in this case, you have to be very agile, you have to be very flexible, and you have to be able to make some quick and fast decisions in terms of pulling together events in a pandemic time.

“Focus less on many countries and be a little bit more strategic in choosing one or two countries where your sport is popular and try to make a hub or bubble work in those places,” Dainton told Ministry of Sport.

To read part one of the two-part interview series with ITTF CEO and WTT director, Steve Dainton, where he discussed how COVID-19 affected the world of table tennis and the battle between traditional broadcast and Over-The-Top digital streaming broadcast (OTT) in international sport, click here.