Umpire Nico Caltabiano says it was a “dreams-come-true moment” to be selected as part of the officials’ team for the Paris Olympics.

Nico is one of only 20 umpires from all over the world to get the call. He was nominated by Table Tennis England.

It is a far cry from the early days of his umpiring journey, keeping score at tournaments where his son Artur was playing, in order to avoid the arguments arising from their player-coach relationship.

Nico settled with his family in Southampton, where he did his PhD after graduating in oceanography in his home nation, Brazil.

He said: “I never played table tennis. I can play, I can get the ball on the table – but I didn’t come from a table tennis background in Brazil.

“I didn’t know much about table tennis but I was ‘helping’ Artur as a coach and you can imagine, father and son in that situation, the arguments and shouting!

“So then when we went to tournaments, I would go to the other side of the hall to keep the scores – and I guess that helped us both!

“Then someone mentioned going on a course to get a qualification. I maybe shouldn’t say this, but they also mentioned my expenses would be paid for going to tournaments, so that was part of the motivation!

“But you start liking being there and doing what you’re doing, you start making friends – other umpires, Table Tennis England staff.

“Then you go abroad and start making more friends who you never thought you’d meet, from different cultures, and it adds to that motivation to continue.”

Nico’s pathway took him from Level 1 (then called County) Umpire in 2012, Level 2 (National) in 2014, International in 2016 and Blue Badge in 2018.

He is currently working towards Gold Badge status – the pinnacle of world officiating. The recent Saudi Smash was his first assessment, and Paris will be second of a total of three required.

Nico umpiring at the Saudi Smash

“When I heard the news of the selection, well, it’s a dreams-come-true moment, very exciting. It’s the pinnacle of an umpire’s career to be at the Olympics,” he said.

“It’s a once in a lifetime thing, because you know that, unless you’re very young, you’re not going to be selected again.

“I’m honoured to be selected, first because I know there are very, very good umpires out there and also there has to be a balance of geography and gender (across the team of officials), so I count myself lucky – particularly coming from Europe, where we have a lot of very good umpires.”

Nico, 53, is based in Geneva, where he works for the World Meteorological Organisation, helping co-ordinate international research on climate change. He umpired at the Europe Top 16 in Montreux – at the opposite end of Lake Geneva – earlier in the year, as well as officiating at the Saudi Smash.

Nico believes he has umpired most of the leading players in the world. Being from England, he will be unable to take charge of matches involving any GB athletes and, given his Brazilian nationality, probably from that country as well.

“I think I’ve umpired the top five men and women at the moment,” he said. “To umpire Fan Zhendong versus Harimoto would be interesting, or Ma Long or one of the top players against Hugo Calderano from Brazil.

“To do a match where there’s a Chinese player is always interesting because of the crowd – where there’s a Chinese player, there will be a big crowd.”

Nico at the Mark Bates Ltd Senior Nationals

What qualities does he believe have helped him get to the Olympics and will help him once there?

“You have to enjoy the experience rather than being fazed by it,” he says. “Yes, there will be a lot of people watching and you are live on TV, but you have to approach it as just another tournament.

“That comes with experience, being able to umpire high-level matches in different environments. You learn to close yourself in the court and you don’t hear anything else.

“I think you have to be open-minded because of the different cultures you experience on the pathway. I think because of my job, which is an international environment, that’s something I’ve learned.

“And also to be friendly with everybody, whether it’s a top player or coach, other umpires and even the ballboys and ballgirls, and I like to believe I have this characteristic. And you have to be firm and knowledgeable.”

Could he have envisaged, when he started, being chosen to officiate at the biggest event in world sport? Absolutely not, he says. But would he recommend the journey to others? The answer to that one is a resounding positive.

He said: “I never thought about progressing as a ‘career’ in umpiring, let alone being selected to go to the Olympics – that never crossed my mind, even when I became an international umpire.

“Then you start to say ‘oh, maybe there’s a chance’ when you get good feedback from referees, and good evaluations. You think ‘maybe people trust me to umpire matches at the highest level’.

“But still, getting to the Olympics is something else.

“The saying that you have the best seat in the house is absolutely true. There’s no way you can really see how a match is played at the highest level if you’re sitting anywhere else.

“And you go to different places, you meet different people and make friends.

“So absolutely, if someone likes doing it, I really encourage people to try to develop and follow the pathway.”

Nico was nominated by Table Tennis England, who educate, support and mentor umpires from the very first steps of their careers.

Chris Newton, General Secretary of the Technical Officials Committee, said: “The Technical Officials Committee have supported and watched Nico grown into one of the very best umpires in the World over the past few year and we are so pleased that he has been selected to represent England at the Paris Olympics.

“Although he is on his way to the Olympics, Nico is always willing to help new umpires and he played a key role in supporting our new younger umpires on their journey towards the Birmingham Commonwealth Games.

“We wish him all the best for the Olympics.”