The Time of Change, New Equipment and Regulations

It is noteworthy to note on the equipment and regulation changes introduced in the recent editions of the World Table Tennis Championships (WTTC) rather than concentrating on event records due to China’s consistent wins. There were various attempts for changes especially during the first 20 years of the 21st century, while the most noticeable changes were made with ‘balls.’ The ITTF changed table tennis ball from a ball with 38mm in diameter and 2.5g in weight that was used from the first WTTC in 1926 to a ball with 40mm in diameter (2mm extension) and 2.7g in weight (0.2g addition) that was designated as an official ball at 2001 Osaka WTTC. After a testing period, the ITTF banned the use of 38mm ball in all competitions from 2003.

After a decade, in 2014, table tennis balls encountered another time for change—this time, with material, not size or weight. The material was changed from celluloid to plastic, after celluloid ruling the market more than 100 years. While celluloid is great material for table tennis balls given the sound and sense of hitting the ball, it was replaced with plastic ABS material as celluloid was considered as dangerous being flammable. The improvement in production capacity also facilitated the change as it was possible to produce plastic balls that have equivalent spin and repelling power to celluloid balls. The plastic 40mm 2.7g balls are the ones used nowadays while celluloid balls that facilitated the modernization of table tennis faded away into history.

▲ The WTTC became an enormous event that involves more than 72 countries. Photo shows the Liebherr 2019 WTTC.

The regulations were also dramatically changed in early 2000s along with the ball change. First, the scoring system of 21 points per game changed to 11 points per game after Osaka 2001 WTTC. Instead, a ‘three games’ match was extended to a ‘five games’ (for team event) or a ‘seven games’ (for individual event) match. The right to serve was changed to be exchanged originally from by five points to by two points. Paris 2003 WTTC was the first Championships with 11 points scoring system, in which Joo Se-hyuk got silver medal in men’s singles.

Furthermore, the ITTF surprised world’s table tennis by applying the ‘open service’ in late 2002. The main point was to make the moment of impact (when ball hits racket in serve) visible to competitor and jury. Exposing the ‘spin’ was considered to be such a big ‘incident’ as a slight momentary movement can make an innumerable change in table tennis. It was also applied from the 2003 WTTC.

Banning the use of ‘speed glue’ was also a meaningful change made in 2008. ‘Speed glue’ signified glues that contained VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds). The speed glue was used in attaching the blade and rubber (that consist a racket) and the volatile VOC increased the repelling power as it permeated into rubber, as well as adding speed and spin. However, there was a concern that toxic ingredients of VOC would possibly be a cause for hallucinations in serious cases that may harm the players and the use of speed glue was banned after discussion. The speed glue, which was known to be popularized through the use by the Hungarian player Klampar, also faded into history despite its merit of adding speed to table tennis games.

Looking at WTTCs, the hosting period is also a noticeable change. Since 1959, the ITTF changed the rule from hosting WTTC with all events by two years to hosting WTTC every year by separating individual and team events. The 46th WTTC, 2001 Osaka, was the last WTTC that held both individual and team events. Today, five individual events are hosted in odd year while men and women’s team events are hosted in even year. The two WTTCs are paired to be counted as one edition.

▲ ITTF hosts General Assembly every year during WTTC period to update regulations. Photo portrays the Liebherr 2019.

The reason for such change was that the size of WTTC got too big to hold all the events in one venue and one Championships. In fact, the Championships lasted for more than 15 days when all the events were held in one WTTC that made the players fatigued. This implies the continuous improvement of the WTTC. First established with a few European countries, the ITTF has today become the largest international sport federation with 226 member National Associations. The first World Table Tennis Championships was held with only nine countries participating, while it now has become an enormous event that involves more than 72 countries in team Championships.

▲ WTTC host city is also elected by vote at General Assembly. Busan won the bid to host the WTTC in Halmstad 2018. The photo was taken after winning the bid.
Written by_Han In-su | Photo by_Table Tennis Monthly Database & ITTF Museum