Thomas Weikert: Top Chinese players are celebrated like popstars
How does your current role at these home World Championships differ, compared to your earlier role as president of the German Table Tennis Association (DTTB)?
Thomas Weikert: There is actually quite a significant difference. As the DTTB President, I dealt with many of the details relating to the overall organization of the event. Today, my most important task is to ensure that the World Championships make a positive outward impression on all conceivable media channels. The aim is to achieve extensive broadcast coverage of the event in as many countries as possible. I have also taken on joint responsibility for finding sponsors together with our marketing director.
The Liebherr Group is sponsoring the championships once again in Düsseldorf. How does the long-standing partnership between the ITTF and Liebherr work?
Thomas Weikert: Liebherr is represented in markets where table tennis is very popular. Our sport is currently developing very well, particularly in Asia and Latin America, which means that Liebherr gets something out of its sponsorship in return. It is also of major importance, both for us and for Liebherr, that table tennis is a clean and transparent sport without any influence from doping. We are determined to combat doping. This is certainly an important factor in Liebherr's sponsorship of table tennis. In short, it's a win-win situation for both parties, but a trusting partnership has definitely blossomed over the years.
As ITTF President, you will be aware of the frequent discussions about China's dominance of world table tennis. How important is it for the sport for other countries to catch up?
Thomas Weikert: It is of fundamental importance from an international perspective. The Chinese spectators also find it more exciting when a player from China is playing against someone from Japan or Germany. It attracts a lot more people and interest, even though there is once again a real hype around table tennis in China, possibly due to China's success at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Top players like Zhang Jike, Ma Long and Ding Ning are being celebrated like popstars again. That's good for our sport. But nevertheless, a bit more variety at the top would certainly also be good for the sport of table tennis.
Within this context, what is the significance of the doubles combinations of Chinese players with players from other countries like Timo Boll or Petrissa Solja at this year's World Championships?
Thomas Weikert: It is an international signal that China is continuing to open up. For some time, we have been wanting the Chinese to get more involved with training camps or courses for trainers and I am pleased to see that they are doing that. The Düsseldorf World Championships represent a further milestone on the road to more intensive exchange, irrespective of the undoubtedly spectacular pairing of Timo Boll with Olympic and World Champion Ma Long.
Given the neutrality of your role, are you still hoping for a successful tournament for the German players in Düsseldorf?
Thomas Weikert: I wouldn't be being true to myself, if I didn't keep my fingers crossed for Germany. I think it would also be good for the atmosphere of the World Championships as a whole if the Germans won a medal.