Anyone who is not blindfolded can see that the popularity of table tennis in live arenas is decreasing. While the World Championships have drawn reasonable crowds, most World Tour Events, particularly those not in the Super Series, have a pretty poor showing. Once upon a time table tennis was a hugely popular sport. Now our proud statistics are distorted by enormous numbers of players within China. The truth is table tennis was (and still is) a great sport, it drew great crowds and was a popular game.
|Lots of empty seat at Athens 2004 Olympics|
China were the first to ascend through the phase of the new game and their dominance began, a dominance people grew tired of. As magnificent as the Chinese are to watch and admire, nobody wants to see the same country win over and over again without so much as a challenge, sport is about seeing competition especially on an international level. So excitement dwindled, what's the point in watching if you already know which country is going to win the World Champs, Olympic Games, World Team Champs etc. Then move along a few years and speed glue gets banned because it's toxic. Another measure to slow the game down and bring in water based glue which offers no speed effect at all. Players like Kreanga, the big hitters, take a long period of time to adjust. China excels again, mainly for their creativity in discovering means by which to boost their rubbers which spread eventually around the globe. Once again ITTF tried to make these methods illegal also. They want the game to be slower so that people can watch. Who suffers? The players.
|Are we heading back to this?|
Maybe the next rule will be to wear long pants again
The sport is growing online, viewership is growing online, but not so much in venues where it still suffers. On the internet, slow motion replays can be employed to help spectators see what is happening. Different camera angles and make rallies easier to watch. Higher quality streams and replays will ultimately feed the growing number of fans online. Why do we need to continually slow the game down for the spectators? Take the hint, it's not working. Events like Kuwait and Qatar Open bolster a handful of mildly excitable fans clapping...in the finals.
Table Tennis was a game of speed and spin, we are gradually degrading to a simpleton sport of hitting a ball back and forward, the skill is diminishing. The focus on promoting the sport for spectators is wrong, sport is for playing. How many sports have we seen make this many changes in equipment and rules in the past couple of decades? I think just 1, table tennis.
|The Two-Toned Ball|
ITTF should be using speed and spin as it's headline marketing campaign, they should be showing the skill and reflexes of the best players in the world and building up the reputation of the sport. Also they should stick to one equipment regime so that we don't have to keep changing all the time. Every time we change, China gets one step ahead because they already have a new generation of players in the wings ready to adapt to any new systems, rules or equipment changes that can be thrown at them. The popularity of the sport depends entirely on image and big events. Build the grandeur of the events and people will come to watch them live.