Author: Kevin James, Last Updated on: 30/05/2020
200 years. Yes, that's how long it took for Table Tennis to develop to its current form. From change of the name of the sport to its equipment and rules, it has had an eventful journey.
The game also had to fight for its identity. Not many people took the game seriously. And rest, referred/ridiculed the game as the poor cousin of Lawn Tennis. But whoever came up with this, can’t be more wrong.
The truth is Table Tennis is a massive sport in its own right. It is played by over 300 million people across 222 countries, says International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF).
Now let’s backtrack to see how Table Tennis became the global phenomenon it has.
Whiff-Whaff, Ping Pong or Table Tennis?
Table Tennis, or TT as it is called in short, originated in Victorian England, where it was played by the elite as an after-dinner game during the 1880s. During those days, the game was called Whiff Waff.
It quickly spread to far-off places mainly due to the ease of playing. For instance, British military officers posted in India would play makeshift versions of the game in their downtime.
In the year 1889, a British sports company 'John Jaques and Son' manufactured the first table tennis set. It consisted of a wooden racquet with vellum canvas stretched across the frame. Due to the peculiar sound that it made while playing, people started referring to it as 'Ping Pong'.
It so happened that around the same time, the popularity of the Lawn Tennis shot up too. And which led to the large-scale adoption of Ping Pong as an indoor version of Lawn tennis.
Seeing the popularity of the game rise, John Jaques and Son went ahead and trademarked the name Ping Pong worldwide. This meant no manufacturer or organisation could use the name Ping Pong without their permission.
And that is why the sport is not called Ping Pong officially.
Later, the US rights to the name were sold to 'The Parker Brother’s'. They allowed only their merchandise to be sold at the ping pong tournaments and took legal action against those who did not comply.
To prevent this trademark war, the organisers adopted the name Table Tennis. Now you know!
Not just the name, the equipment also evolved with time. Like in 1901, a celluloid ball was introduced by entrepreneur James Gibb who was also a table tennis enthusiast. In the same year, EC Goode invented the modern version of the table tennis paddle by sticking a pimpled rubber on the wooden bat.
From pastime to profession
With the formation of Table Tennis Association in England in 1921, things started getting serious. Later, with the emergence of ITTF in 1926, the game had graduated from simply being a recreational time pass activity to being a fully-fledged competitive sport.
The same year, London hosted the first official World Championships, and that laid the ground for what TT would become later - a highly competitive, organised and international sport. Six decades later, the first World Cup was held; by 1988, it became an Olympic sport; people in Europe and Japan were training hard to score points, win titles, and perform incredible feats.
In short, the game of tiny bat and ball had gone global.
World Wide Effect
Think of table tennis and the name of Asia pops in the mind first. It's totally understandable. Asia became the breeding ground for some of the biggest names of the sport, such as Yoo Nam-Kyu, Kaii Yoshida and Patrick Chila. If you think you are good, just watch some of these players play on TV and consider yourself very lucky if you catch their athleticism live.
That’s not to say that the continent is dominating the TT scene. With its exponentially increasing popularity, other countries and players have emerged strong contenders too, such as James McClure from the US, Jill Rook from the UK and Angelica Rozeanu of Romanian/Israeli descent. What further solidifies the popularity of TT is that it is not affected by geographies or gender.
However, it's worth highlighting that the US has taken a particular fondness to TT. It has new players emerging on the circuit every month, and in some ways, the sport as a whole is becoming a rather cultural norm in America that draws in significant crowds. Players like Kanak Jha are already making their mark in the professional scene.
No stopping it
The unprecedented popularity of TT is not hard to decode. The fact that it can be played realistically anywhere, rather than having a tennis green to play on, along with the number of people who can play it at the same time makes it a crowd favourite.
As a result, TT remains a staple at all worldwide events, including the Olympics. Its viewership is increasing with every passing year, because spectators have now realised that TT is not just a smaller version of Lawn Tennis, but a much an exciting sport which requires just as much, if not more, athleticism and skill.
So, from the formation of the ITTF in 1926, to China offering Ping Pong Diplomacy, and then it becoming an Olympic sport in 1988, the sport of TT has had a meteoric rise and one which continues to gain popularity, players and fans to this day.