Read more about World Championships, WTHT and table hockey in general in our interview with Simon Thomas, the ITHF president.

Simon, what was your impression about WCh in Liberec? What were positive and negative sides of organisation?

On the whole, it was one of the better world championships that I’ve attended.
The communication at the venue was particularly good. I can usually tell how good the
communication at a tournament is by the number of people coming to me with questions like
«What’s happening now?», «When will we resume play?» etc. In Liberec, this didn’t happen
much at all. I remember in St. Petersburg, for example, I was asked such questions almost
constantly. There were a lot of positives at the world championships in St. Petersburg, but the
communication wasn’t so great. In Liberec, there were many English-speakers in the
organisational team who were able to answer questions, and there were plenty of clear
announcements that were easy to understand.

There were some major problems behind the scenes, involving disagreements between the
various organisers, but this went unnoticed by most players.

One of the most obvious problems was the lack of pucks. I know a large part of the budget
was spent on the band Queenie, which performed on the Thursday before most players had
even arrived – I would have preferred this money to be spent on something more practical like
a larger supply of pucks.

For me, the most serious problem was that some of the events in Liberec were not organised
according to ITHF rules, e.g. the teams in one event were not seeded properly. Usually we
check the website in advance, for example, and make sure the playing system is rulecompliant. I wasn’t able to do this for Liberec because the website didn’t work in some
regions, including where I live. It’s disappointing that this technical problem wasn’t fixed,
despite the organisers being informed months before the tournament. Also, due to divisions
between the organisers, there was nobody who could provide all the required information in
advance and some things were only finalised very late. When I arrived and found some rules
had been broken, the organisers said it was too late to make the necessary changes without
causing massive delays.

As the problems only affected a small number of players and the delays would have affected everyone, I decided I had no choice but to reluctantly let things continue as planned. This meant I received some complaints from angry players.

One thing that completely sucked was when one organiser decided to hide the fact that video
evidence was available, which could have easily solved a dispute between the Ukrainian and
Norwegian veterans’ teams. This caused a really regrettable situation, as the video was then
circulated on the Internet and it clearly showed that a serious breach of the rules had gone
unnoticed. I then had the unpleasant task of issuing a 6-month ban to the player concerned,
who had previously been very helpful to me on my visit to the Ukraine Cup.
Generally, the video coverage was great though. One of the many positives in Liberec was the
online poll they organised, so spectators at home could vote on which play-offs were to be
shown on camera.

The next WCh will be held in Minsk in 2019. Why do you think there was no any alternatives?

Initially, Belarus asked me about hosting the 2018 European championships. But Eskilstuna
had already applied and because Stiga is involved there, I decided it was in everyone’s
interests to hold that tournament at Stiga’s Eskilstuna base and take the opportunity to
improve cooperation with Stiga. So I suggested Belarus should apply for 2019 instead.
We gave others a chance to bid, but it was probably too early for most people to be seriously
thinking about 2019. I know Norway were considering a bid, but they eventually decided
against it.

Isn’t it risky to give such a big event to Belarus who never host any big tournaments before?

Some had already said it was risky to give Belarus a World Tour tournament last season, but
Belarus surprised everyone with the quality of that tournament. According to the feedback
I’ve received, it totally rocked! I’ve met the man who will be the main organiser in Minsk,
Sergiej Vazhnik, and he seems very ambitious and motivated. So I see plenty of reasons to be
optimistic about the 2019 world championships in Belarus.

The visa rules have also changed, so players from most western countries can now travel to
Belarus without a visa for the first time. This, combined with the positive development of
Belarusian table hockey in recent years, means that now is a great time for us all to go there.
In the coming months, the focus will be more on the European championships in Eskilstuna.
But after that, we at the ITHF will be turning our attention to Belarus and making sure they
have all the support they need.

You are representing Ireland nowadays. Why you change it to Ireland? Cause as we
know correctly you still live in Germany, right?

The reasons why I changed are all about stupid politics. If you really want to know, I was
born in Britain and now live in Germany. I want to stay in Germany for the time being, but
I’m only allowed to live there because being British means I’m an EU citizen, so I can live
anywhere in the EU. That might change after Brexit, so I had to find a solution. I found out
that I’m allowed to take Irish citizenship because I had an Irish grandmother, so that was the
easiest solution for me. Now I’m just hoping Ireland doesn’t decide to leave the EU any time
soon!

Recently it was some changes in evaluation of Super Series tournaments. Who came up with this idea?

I proposed this change in response to the «problem» of having a growing number of excellent
tournaments. The organisers of the Turku Open had told me they want to be in the Super
Series. And I think the tournaments in Tallinn, Kursk and Stavanger are also of sufficient
quality, for example. We needed to make it possible for those organisers to get into the Super
Series, as some of them are organising better tournaments than the current four. Some current
Super Series organisers have not always been delivering top quality in recent years, so hopefully this will also give them motivation to raise their standards.

And who will choose which tournaments will be in Super Series in future?

It’s actually already written in the Tournament Rules that the Executive Committee chooses
the Super Series hosts each season, so no rules have changed here. Of course, the Executive
Committee can’t attend all tournaments though, so we welcome any help from players who
can send us photos, videos or written reports (positive or negative) from tournaments
worldwide, to aid the decision-making process. Naturally, we won’t be basing our decisions
purely on personal opinions and we’ve published quite a comprehensive list of criteria that
will be taken into account.

Will it be any limits for Super Series tournaments for 1 country?

There’s no rule preventing a country from hosting two Supers, but one of our criteria is
geographical spread, so it’s unlikely that we’ll put two in one country in the same season. If a
country has two top-quality tournaments for example, we would be more likely to alternate
between the two from season to season.

You are an ITHF president for quite a long time already, how do you like your work in
general? What positive changes did you make during you presidency?

I like being able to solve problems, and I think I’ve done a lot of that as president, sometimes
on a large scale, but many times also on a very small scale. I’ve helped to generally improve
the communication and transparency of the ITHF. I’ve helped to make the World Tour more
exciting and significant by enabling more players to qualify for championships through the
World Tour. I’ve made the World Tour bigger, adding new countries and bringing back
countries that had been absent for many years.

I’ve also played a role in helping to solve internal disputes in various member countries. In addition, I’ve helped to make it easier for new countries to become ITHF members, so that as many table hockey players as possible worldwide have a say when we vote on how to move forwards as an international community.

I’ve also been involved in a lot of adjustments to the rules. Many people find that stuff boring,
but it’s been quite rewarding for me to see that the number of rule-related arguments at
international tournaments has decreased significantly since I started.
On the negative side, I’m often the first person to be blamed when things go wrong, even if I
don’t have anything to do with the respective situation.

Was it any mistakes in your opinion?

Of course I’ve made mistakes. The result of the last presidential election shows that. There
were no other candidates, but four countries voted against me anyway! So in four countries,
they think I’m doing such a bad job, they would rather have no president at all.

Your biggest mistake?

By far the biggest mistake I made was right at the start. It’s quite complicated, but I’ll try to
explain it: The first international vote I had to organise was on whether we should have a
limited number of high-level tournaments per country. There was a yes-or-no question on
whether to have a limit, then another question saying «If we have a limit, what should it be?»,
and for that question I initially made it possible to choose a limit of between 1 and 6! What a
dumbass! That meant everyone who wanted no limit could just choose «6», so even if the
«yes» vote won, the limit could still end up being as high as 6, which would basically be the
same as having no limit. No matter what the majority wanted, the «no» vote would effectively
win.

Of course, the Executive Committee checks everything before it gets published, but
nobody noticed that problem until it was too late, so I had the embarrassing task of changing
the options in the vote after publishing them. I know that was the reason why one country
voted against me in the presidential election, and that’s quite understandable.

Was it something you did not expect before you became a president?

One weird thing I’ve noticed about being president is there are certain expectations of me in
eastern countries in particular, which I wasn’t expecting. I grew up in New Zealand, where
people generally like to keep things casual and it’s common to laugh if one of your mates puts
on a shirt and tie and tries to look special. But in Eastern Europe, I’ve been criticised for being
too casually dressed when giving speeches. I’ve read reports on speeches of mine that make
absolutely no mention of what I said, but only comment on what I was wearing! So I’ve
learnt, for example, that shoes are really important to you guys and I am trying to adapt. Don’t
worry, I’m wearing shoes while I’m giving you this interview. I can send a photo if you need proof!

We trust you. And which changes you would like to do, but there is no possibility at the moment or still not the right time to do?

At present, I can’t make any changes that involve money. That’s because we don’t even have a
bank account yet and when we get one, there’ll be questions about tax etc. We have to find the
most economical way to set this up, and work out which country offers the best conditions.
I’m not an expert in this area, which is why I proposed introducing a Chief Financial Officer
to take charge of that. Mykhaylo Shalomayev has taken on this role and is trying to find the
right solution.

Once the administrative issues are out of the way, we can start to think about what we can do
with money. For example, I would like us to help organisers of World Tour tournaments by
sending them a certain number of games each season. And I would like to be able to send
games to new table hockey communities in remote regions. There are also calls to introduce
prize money on the World Tour, for example. Another suggestion is that we could take steps
towards getting our sport officially accredited by worldwide sports organisations, but again,
this usually requires money.

Once we are able to handle financial transactions, there’ll be countless new options for us to
consider.

I’ve also been trying to get the website fixed for ages. It’s really old-fashioned and difficult to
use on phones and tablets. Two programmers have tried working on it so far, but apparently
the code is a real mess, so they both gave up. Last I heard, Juho Rautio said he might have
time to take another crack at it soon.

Pavel Gorodnitksy has an idea to sell wild-cards for World Champs for large sum of
money. This money could then be used for some development of table hockey. What do you think about that?

Without a doubt, one of my finest achievements in table hockey was when I made Pavel
Gorodnitsky cry. But that’s another story.

I do see some potential in this idea of his. I expect most people’s first reaction to the
suggestion would be negative, because players generally have to earn their place on national
teams by playing, not paying. But if the fee is set quite high, so that it’s money that we can
really achieve something with, and if the money is guaranteed to be spent in ways that clearly
benefit the table hockey community, it might be possible to persuade the national delegates to
approve it.

Anyway, this brings me back to my previous answer: without so much as a bank account, we
can’t even consider this kind of initiative yet.

Last time you played in Russia was Moscow Open 2016. Why didn’t you play in some
Russian tournaments last season and do you plan to participate in some of them during
this season?

Russia has more high-quality players than any other country, so anyone serious about
developing as a table hockey player simply must go there and experience Russian table
hockey.

I must admit, I was quite surprised by the 2016 Moscow Open though. I went there because I
had heard it was one of the best tournaments in the world. The people were very friendly to
me, including the main organiser Alexey Titov. There was an impressive number of top-level
players and I had a great time. But I was surprised to see that many of the games were quite
old, the venue was quite a humble building, and the prizes were nothing special. For me, these
are not necessarily major problems, but I had been expecting more, especially because Alexey
had strongly criticised the Czech Open for similar reasons. In the 2015/16 season, the Czech
Open offered better quality than Moscow in my opinion: in Prague, the games are all brandnew, which is one of the most important factors. I don’t want to be too negative about my time
in Moscow though: Alexey did a lot to make me feel welcome and I had the fun of playing for
Toro Rosso in the Russian team championship on the Sunday, so I’m very glad I went there
and I recommend others to go and check it out for themselves.

In general, it’s quite a hassle for me to travel to Russia though, as I have to make two visits to
an embassy and pay about 100 euros for a visa, plus it’s always a long flight. Of course, that’s
not so bad, but it means I need to find extra time and I’m more likely to choose a more
convenient option. Also, some parts of Russia are quite hard to reach from where I live. But
I’ve played in Russia three times now and I’m sure I’ll be there again.
One of the people in the Russian table hockey scene who has impressed me the most is
Alexander Makushkin of Kursk, who is such a sincere and dedicated guy. Unfortunately, I
won’t make it to Kursk this season, but he keeps telling me I should come, so I think I have no
choice: Kursk must be my next Russian destination!

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