January 24, 2014

USATT Election and the Petition Rule

Recently USATT had a special election to fill a vacant At-Large seat on the USATT Board of Directors. USATT has a Nominating and Governance Committee (NGC). One of their duties is to evaluate candidates for office and nominate them for the election ballot. If you wish to run for the USATT board, and they don't choose you, you have no recourse. Right away alarm bells should be going off in your head. (The only exception is if you run for an Athlete Director position, but only elite athletes are eligible for that.)

For the At Large positions, here is the pertinent bylaw (from Section 7.6. Election/Selection, b-3 in the USATT bylaws.): "The Nominating and Governance Committee shall evaluate all candidates for At Large Director and nominate at least two (2) individuals per seat to the USATT General Membership for election."

In the special election, I was told six people applied to run. The NGC had to select two or more for the ballot, and could in fact have put all six on the ballot. Now I agree that, given the flawed rules to start with, the NGC had to make a decision, and not all six candidates were greatly qualified. But they could have put more than two on the ballot, and let the voters decide. Instead, they kept four of the six off the ballot, and allowed voters to choose only among the final two.

The NGC chose USATT Hall of Famer Jim McQueen (who went on to win the election, and who I voted for) and Ross Brown. (Here's the announcement.) Nothing wrong with this, though I might have chosen different candidates. For example, Jim Butler applied, but was turned down. His main qualification is as an elite athlete (3-time U.S. Men's Champion, Olympian), but he also has a lot of energy and ideas. Mauricio Vergara, who runs the New York Table Tennis League, also applied and was turned down. (Leagues and junior programs are how table tennis all over the world has grown, as well as most other sports all over the U.S. - but USATT has never recognized these obvious facts, and so puts little value in this sort of thing, which is why membership has stagnated so long. I find this mind-boggling - if we can't figure out the easy stuff, how can we do the hard stuff?)

I could write long arguments for these candidates, but one other candidate was amazingly left off the ballot, the candidate that should have been the first one put on the ballot. Who was that? Rajul Sheth, who set up and runs the ICC Table Tennis Club in the Bay Area, applied, and even he was turned down! I find this mind-boggling. Let's look at some of his credentials, which he sent to the NGC (and which I cut & pasted):

  • Rajul established one of the biggest full time table tennis centers in the country-ICC Table Tennis Center with over 300 members and 150 kids in junior training program.
  • Qualifying athletes in national teams. The most relevant, qualifying 3 athletes Ariel Hsing, Timothy Wang & Lily Zhang at the Olympics, all three forged and prepared in the same club, no other worldwide clubs did the same.
  • Recognition by USATT as Centre of Excellence, and by ITTF as one of the 22 ITTF Hot Spot in the World for talent development.
  • Succeeded in raising funds to sponsor most of the top juniors in bay area for their training and equipment cost including current US National Men’s and Women’s singles champion Timothy Wang and Lily Zhang.
  • Employed the largest professional coaching staff (8 full time and 10 part times) in the country to take our juniors to next level.
  • Rajul won 2008 and 2009 USATT/USOC development Coach of the Year Award. ICC coaches Massimo Costantini and Zhou Xin also won 2011 & 2012 National coach of the year award by USATT/USOC.
  • Hosting three of the top ten USATT sanctioned tournament each year in terms of number of players.
  • Largest USATT singles league in the country with over 120 players compete each week.
  • Introduces our sport to at least 1000-1200 new kids each year in 14 weeks of summer and winter camps. To run these camps he invites at least 15 coaches from India, China and Europe each year.

So the guy is successful in starting up a large-scale full-time table tennis center; in developing elite athletes; in creating large-scale leagues; in creating large-scale junior programs; and in raising hordes of money (many hundreds of thousands of dollars to date). All of these are things that USATT badly needs to be able to do. And yet, voters were blocked from even having the opportunity of voting for him.

The rule used to be that anyone left off the ballot by the NGC could get on the ballot by petition of 150 signatures from USATT members. It used to be an annual rite at the U.S./North American Teams for candidates to get the signatures needed. (I did this when I was left off the ballot in 1991, and I subsequently got on by petition, and won in a landslide over the candidates chosen by the committee. Someday I'll blog about my experiences on the USATT board, though they are not much different than my experience in torturing myself by attending well over fifty USATT board meetings over the years.)

Some might argue that we don't want people like Rajul because of the conflict of interest. Putting aside that the conflict here is that he may favor his home club over others, and that I'm from a rival club (MDTTC) and don't consider it a major conflict, let's look at the logic.

We want USATT to succeed. For it to do so, we need people who are successful in table tennis - people who have set up and run clubs, leagues, junior programs, coaching programs, tournaments, done fundraising, etc. If we immediately exclude anyone who has been successful in these areas that grow the sport, what are we left with? Just the unsuccessful ones to run our sport? No, it is exactly the people who have set up and run such successful programs that we need on the USATT board.

To use a simple example, Jim McQueen has been successful in running table tennis programs in the Raleigh, NC region for decades, and that's a reason for putting him on the ballot. Does anyone consider that a conflict of interest? The irony is that a primary reason some might say Rajul has a conflict of interest is because he has been TOO successful! And so, because his club and organizing efforts are too successful, he has a conflict of interest, and can't run. So we have to find others who weren't as successful.  

One explanation for the above: there are only four members of the NGC, and amazingly, only two of them are table tennis people. So lacking table tennis experience, two of the four have no real way of really evaluating the candidates, and so we're down to two people choosing who will be on the ballot, and who will not. They are welcome to explain the reasoning for the decision to leave Rajul (or others) off the ballot, and assuming it's polite, it'll run without comment that day in my blog. (Here's the listing of USATT committees, including the NGC.)

There's a simple solution to this problem: CHANGE THE BYLAWS.  Bring back the 150 signature rule, i.e. let candidates who are not chosen by the NGC get on by petition. (Actually, 150 always seemed too many; 100 should suffice.) It didn't cause a problem before, and there's no reason to not have it again, unless the goal is to focus all power in a small group, and exclude voters from voting for certain candidates who have been hugely successful. Changing the USATT bylaws isn't that big a deal. Here are the simple rules:

Section 22.1. Amendments
Upon at least thirty (30) days advance notice of the proposed changes, the Bylaws may be amended, repealed, altered in whole or in part, and the new Bylaws may be adopted by a two-third (2/3) affirmative vote of the Full Board at any meeting duly

I'd love to see which USATT board member will step up and make the proposal - and which board members would actually oppose this. (There are nine board members, so it would take six to pass this, or four to block it at a meeting of all nine members.) Alas, USATT has a long history of status quo, and I suspect it will continue its status quo of status quo.

I'd also like to see the NGC committee, which is responsible for choosing which table tennis people can run for these table tennis positions, be made up of all table tennis people. That seems a no-brainer.

My personal "agenda" is simple - I want candidates who will pro-actively try to develop our sport, i.e. think of themselves as executives and legislators, not just as judges who sit in judgment of whatever comes before them. We need ones who will bring things before the board and make things happen. I didn't read that from the campaign statements of the two candidates chosen. I hope to be pleasantly surprised in this.

Perhaps I sound like someone who should have run for the board. Guess what? I strongly considered running, but when I heard Rajul was running for the one open spot, I decided not to run. If I'd known he would be excluded (the idea of which never entered my mind, though I knew the bylaws), I might have applied to run - but under the current rules, would I have been allowed to?

Serve Practice

Have you practiced your serves this week? No??? Okay . . . let me know when you are serious about your game again, and we'll talk! To the rest of you, good job.

Infinite Looper

Infinite Looper is a great resource for studying the game. It allows you to choose a table tennis video, and play back one segment over and over. For example, here's a 3-second segment showing Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov's backhand loop kill, which you can watch over and Over and OVER! (The word "looper" in the title has to do with being able to loop the same segment over and over, not a heavy topspin shot!) 

Kreanga vs. Angles

Here's video (58 sec) of an incredible rally between Greece's Kalinikos Kreanga and France's Enzo Angles.

Ping-Pong with Nunchucks

Here's a video (2:10) where "Twins battle in a Ping Pong match using Nunchucks and Martial Arts Skills." This is reminiscent of the infamous Bruce Lee Nunchuck video (2:37) that seemed to show Lee playing table tennis with nunchucks. (It was actually from a Nokia cell phone ad, and the actor was a Bruce Lee look-alike.)

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