Ever played in a table tennis tournament, then had a friend come off the court and say “That Fred is a cheat! I would have won if he hadn’t used illegal serves!” Or maybe you’ve been playing, and your opponent has been driving you nuts because he always keeps you waiting before starting the point? Or there is a certain someone at your club who never apologises when he or she hits the net or edge, and that really irritates you?
If so, then read on, for this article will deal with all of the above situations, and try to give you a new perspective about
What makes a good sport?
Table Tennis is a wonderful sport. If you are reading this article you already know this fact. But what about you? Are you a good sport? You know, the type of player who always plays fair and never seek to get an unfair advantage over an opponent? I hope that the majority of people who are reading this are saying “Of course I am!”
I’d like to think that table tennis players are a noble brotherhood who love the sport and respect their opposition, striving valiantly to beat their opponent on the court and enjoying a drink (alcoholic or sports) and a chat with the same player after the game, win or lose.
Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is very different. I know that in the competition in which I play, there are many players who consider themselves good sports but can name several other players who are illegal servers, timewasters, cheaters, etc. And yet there are other players who have no problem with these illegal servers but don’t like the first group of players for toweling off too often!
Be honest now, when I asked whether you were a good sport, didn’t you say that you were, but add to yourself “But I know a few other people that aren’t!” Do you think that maybe other people are saying the same thing about you?
Take a look at the players you play against. How many of us can really say that everyone gets on wonderfully well with everybody else, and perfect behaviour is displayed on court during every match? If your area is anything like mine, I’ll bet you have a number of people who don’t like each other, won’t talk to each other, and bad mouth each other every chance they get. But you get on with both sides perfectly well. Why is that?
I’ve got a bit of a theory about what is going on, but before I get on my soapbox, let me ask you a few questions to set the scene.
What would you do?
If you were the umpire of a match, which of the following rules would you enforce?
(1) Height of ball toss – must be six inches high
(2) Play should be continuous
(3) Removal of free arm from the area between the ball and the ends of the table on service
(4) Players must leave their bats on the table between games
(5) Players must be using legal rubbers
(6) Players only have 1 minute break between games
For how many questions did you answer yes? Four or five? Or even all six? I’m pretty sure I could ask these six questions to 10 different players and get many different combinations of yes’s and no’s (and possibly even from 10 different umpires!). Think about the people you play with – would your situation be any different?
Now, for those of who you answered yes to all of the six questions above, let me ask you one more question: The last time you umpired, how many of these rules did you actually enforce?
The root of the problem
This is where the problem lies, in my own humble opinion. People have different opinions about two important points:
(1) what is legal and what isn’t; and
(2) of those things that are illegal, what is important and should be enforced, and what is trivial and can be ignored.
Until everybody agrees on these two points for every issue in Table Tennis, we are always going to have clashes between players with different views.
So what can we do about it? Well, it’s hard to change everybody else in the world, though it is a noble goal. So I would recommend that you change yourself first, and then worry about everyone else. Here’s what I suggest:
Greg’s Solution for World Peace (in Table Tennis at least)
(1) KNOW the rules. When in doubt, look at the rulebook. When is the last time you saw two players go to the official rulebook for Table Tennis to sort out a disagreement on what is legal and what isn’t? Who even carries an up-to-date rulebook in their bag for such situations?
(2) APPLY the rules. All of them. All of the time. Preferably without fear or favour. This can be even tougher than knowing the rules. It takes a considerable amount of guts to be an umpire and call a fault at match point if a serve is clearly illegal. But this is what should be done. At the very least, if there are certain rules that you are willing to ignore as an umpire, you should be upfront with the players and let them know in advance. Then both players have the chance to agree or disagree with you before the match starts.
Being a realist, I know that it is not likely that suddenly everybody will read my article and the problem will go away. But if you decide to change your own behavior, that will be a good start. At least there will be two of us out there!
Until we reach such a Utopia where everyone is following Rules 1 and 2, you will need a degree of tolerance and understanding towards your fellow players. Even if you don’t agree with your opponent that his cupping the ball in his palm on service is OK because you can see that he doesn’t spin it off his hand, if you understand his point of view you might be less likely to wrap the net around his neck and choke him with it!
So in the interests of lower blood pressure in Table Tennis players around the world, I have included below a number of issues that are points of contention between players, made an argument for both sides (Note: I think I’ll skip the arguments for and against – you have probably heard them all before and I don’t think they are adding much to the article. – GL 21/03/2005), and then finished with what I consider to be the ITTF’s official stance. Read both sides of the issue, try to see it both ways, and when you are umpiring enforce the official guidelines regardless of your personal opinion. If you are playing and your opponent and/or umpire refuse to do so, take it to the referee, or suck it up, be the bigger person and win the match anyway!
Note: You might be wondering about whether I am qualified to make such a judgement. At the time of writing, I am an actual International Umpire, but I’m not perfect either, so if you think I have made a mistake feel free to email me and let me know, and I’ll double check.
List of Issues
As you can see below, it is quite an extensive list and I haven’t finished detailing all the issues yet. I’ll get around to it over the next few weeks, but it may take me a while. If you can think of any others you’d like to add, feel free to add a comment below.
Before the match
Issue – You only have to showing your racket to your opponent if he asks to see it
The ITTF’s position:
Sorry guys, but this one is pretty much unarguable – you have to show your opponent your racket, whether he asks or not. Refer to Law 2.4.8 – ‘Before the start of a match and whenever he or she changes his or her racket during a match a player shall show his or her opponent and the umpire the racket he or she is about to use and shall allow them to examine it’. The Handbook for Match Officials adds the following comment in point 7.3.1 ‘Opponents must always be given the opportunity to examine any racket that is to be used’.
I don’t think you can force an opponent to examine your racket if he doesn’t want to, but he must be offered the opportunity. Note also that the laws only say that the opponent is allowed to examine the racket – it does not say that he is allowed to touch it or handle it – so I would think you are within your rights if you don’t want your opponent to touch your racket. Whether the umpire has the right to touch your bat is a grey area that I’d hate to have to rule on – though I would probably think that since umpires may have to touch a bat to examine in for damage they probably should be allowed to handle a player’s racket.
Damaged or illegal bats
If a pimpled rubber bat has a pimple missing, or a smooth rubber has a chunk missing from around the edge, it’s illegal
The ITTF’s position:
This is up to the umpire, and upon appeal up to the referee. Refer to Law 126.96.36.199 ‘Slight deviations from continuity of surface or uniformity of colour due to accidental damage or wear may be allowed provided that they do not significantly change the characteristics of the surface’. The Handbook for Match Officials has this to say as well in point 7.3.2 – ‘If the umpire considers that a racket is illegal he or she should explain why to the player. Even where this is a question of fact, such as an over-thick covering, the player may not accept the ruling. In such a situation, the matter must be reported to the referee, whose decision will be final. Similarly, if an opponent objects to a racket, which the umpire considers acceptable, the referee must decide whether the objection is justified.’
It further goes on to add under section 7.4 Damage:
7.4.1 A racket that is legal when a player starts to use it may become damaged to an extent that invalidates its legality by, perhaps, destroying the continuity of the covering or the uniformity of pimples over a significant part of the surface. If a player wishes to continue
with a damaged racket, and the umpire has any doubt about its continuing legality, he or she should immediately report to the referee.
7.4.2 In deciding whether to allow further use of a damaged racket, the referee should consider primarily the interests of the opponent. The ball is likely to rebound unpredictably from a damaged surface and this could cause difficulties for both players, although the player who wishes to use the racket has implicitly accepted this risk. Therefore, unless the damage is trivial, it is generally better for the racket to be replaced.
So a racket can have a pimple or two (or three!) missing, or small chunks or tears in the rubber surface and still be legal, provided that the umpire believes that the damage won’t change the way the rubber plays significantly. If you are unhappy with the umpire’s ruling, you can appeal to the referee, who will make the final decision.
Still to come:
- using a different bat in the warmup,
- using both sides in warmup,
- putting your fingers on opponent’s bat when checking it,
- fiddling with net tension,
- choice of serve/receive/ends
- hiding (behind body, arm),
- ball toss height,
- ball toss direction,
- ball toss starts below below table,
- cupped hand
- wrong side in doubles
Receive of serve
- bat underneath table,
- twiddling the bat during the service
- call of let by players,
- call of net by players,
- outside disturbances (ie noise, barrier knocked down, ball comes onto table),
- other players on court,
- call of edge/side,
- saying sorry for nets/edges,
- saying good shot or not
- swapping of racket,
- timeouts (normal and injury),
- breaks between game,
- playing in tracksuit,
- respect for opponent,
- arguing with umpires,
- damage to racket, table or surrounds,
- spectator reaction and playing to the crowd,
- drinks on the court,
- leaving your bat on the table between games,
- hand on table,
- moving of table,
- celebrations (excessive),
- excuses for losing