As many of you already know, I was elected chair of TTI at the AGM in early June. I would like to update you on what has happened in the last two months and how we are progressing. I’d also like to set out the challenges and opportunities that face us and our plans.
The honour of being elected chair was quickly followed by the realisation of the importance of the task I had taken on. Table Tennis has been played as an organised sport in Ireland for many decades and the Irish Table Tennis Association (now better known as Table Tennis Ireland) was officially formed as a limited company in the 1930s.
Ireland, (North and South) has changed almost beyond recognition in the last thirty years and these socio-economic changes have had an effect. The sport has gone through cycles of mass popularity (with 700 players in the National Championships in the 1970s) to more modest numbers now (one tenth of that figure typically in the last decade). The challenge of declining numbers is not unique to Table Tennis – in fact most sports are experiencing similar patterns. Another external change is the increased supervision and governance requirements expected today in a modern society – for example child protection, whistle blower policies, social media policies, Board appraisals etc. – all good things, but all requiring the professionalization of the organisation, meaning full time professional staff. Volunteers are more difficult to find for reasons that will be evident to all. However, there are also great opportunities, for instance the strength of the immigrant populations from eastern Europe and further afield, many with an interest in the sport. The improved facilities, technical expertise and coaching available. Even reduced flight cost and the Euro (for some of us) have changed the landscape for our top players, allowing them to compete abroad much more easily than when I last held a bat seriously. Much of the above will be obvious, but I thought it useful to set it out as the context in which we are operating now.
Although these broader patterns are interesting, I was kicked into action on several more practical issues since the AGM.
1. We are establishing an online system to allow you to affiliate, enter events, find a club etc. online – the system is known as GoMembership and you can expect to see it in the next few months. We are in the implementation stages with the software vendor, configuring the system to optimally meet our needs.
2. We recently hosted the very successful Senior Schools International event in the University of Limerick with teams from Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales, Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey. We had some fantastic wins and incredible fight backs. One thing our Irish players do not lack is confidence with some incredible wins by several players none more so than Charlie Fitzgerald of Blackrock and Katie McGlone of UCD (amongst others too numerous to mention). The events unit (under Tony Farrell’s leadership), the office staff, other Board members and many volunteers deserve all the credit for this showpiece event.
3. We had until the first of July to develop our mid-year review in order to collect the second half of our 2016 funding. We have been working on that since just before the AGM.
4. Several changes are being suggested to various events and the ranking scheme all of which will be subject to further consultation through the branches
5. Establishing a new Board of Directors and setting objectives for the year ahead, aligned with the existing strategy and some thoughts we are developing on a new strategy.
So, it has been a fast start, but a good one.
Ahead of us lies several major work efforts including developing a new strategy and maintaining, or even growing funding for the sport. At a high level I want to focus on supporting Branches and Clubs, modernising our systems and processes and attracting more women to (and back to) the sport, leading to a healthier balance in the organisation. Several of the directors have set out their objectives for the next year, including Alan Strong for Coaching, Conn Higgins for High Performance, Michael Barry for Financial Management, improved accountability and governance and Liam O’Ceallaigh for Participation. We also look to make significant improvements in the Women In Sport program to focus on all women in the sport , not just new entrants. I hope to share more of our plans with you as they develop. We are ambitious and also realistic , focusing on where our efforts are most likely to make a difference.
I, along with some of the Directors, hope to meet all of the provincial branches before the season commences.
There are a number of vacancies at Director and Associate Director level which I would like to fill. I know that these positions could also be opportunities to help fill out your career profile. These roles are focused on a particular area and it is my intention not to ask anyone to go beyond their particular area of responsibility. Please contact the office ([email protected]) if you are interested in exploring these opportunities or want to propose someone.
· Marketing Director, to manage sponsorship deals with a handful of suppliers and to promote the sport
· Chief Technical Officer, to manage our small office IT environment and our developing online platforms, ideally with an interest in Information Security
· Events Unit Chair, someone with an interest in the sport, logistics or project management
· Company Secretary, someone with legal or compliance experience who can help redraft and rationalise our policies and regulations, in consultation with the membership, as well as briefing the Board on their duties etc.
· Other roles are available for people with suitable skills, so please contact us if you feel you have a particular skill or expertise that could support TTI.
I would like to thank everyone who has expressed their support in the last few busy weeks, and I look forward to working with you all to ensure TTI goes from strength to strength. Please remember that we are a membership organisation and, as such, TTI, through the office staff and Directors, is always keen to hear your feedback and suggestions, especially where you can help us make improvements.
Chairman, Table Tennis Ireland