(A Brief History of Table Tennis)
The history of ping pong is that of an amazing journey. What started as a pastime played purely for recreation with bottle corks as balls and cigar box lids as rackets, has now become one of the most popular games in the world, and as a sport table tennis commands worldwide audiences at every Olympic games.
The history of table tennis may not be as extensive or archaic as the sport it is borrowed from – tennis – but has a similar richness of tradition. Very few people are actually aware of the history of ping-pong and have several misconceived notions about it.
History of Ping Pong – It’s Not From China!
Some people wrongly believe that ping pong originated in China and that’s why the Chinese continue to exert their dominance over the game. Actually, Ping Pong originated in England in the 1880’s where the elite male members of the Victorian aristocracy played the game to relax after dinner or at social gatherings.
Back then, they didn’t have proper tables, balls or rackets, so they hit champagne corks with books, and it was played on a dining table. The game was known as whiff-whaff due to the sound made. Later with the development of more recognisable equipment it became known as ping pong, again coming from the sound made while playing the game.
The term “Ping Pong” was officially registered by J.Jaques in 1901, who owned a factory which manufactured table tennis equipment. J.Jaques & Sons retained the sole authority to produce “ping pong” equipment. Other manufactures could produce such equipment only under the generic name of table tennis. It was only later that the sole rights were dissolved and the two terms could be used interchangeably.
Growth of Equipment
The technical aspect of the game developed through the years in Europe, United States and Japan. James Gibb was a popular English enthusiast who introduced celluloid balls to ping pong for the first time. He discovered them on a visit to United States and found them ideal for the game. In 1903, the ping pong table was first covered with a sheet of rubber and simultaneously, the ping pong racket also emerged.
The popularity of the ping pong grew by leaps and bounds. The year 1921 marks a crucial development as the Table Tennis Association was established in England. Even prior to this, there were unofficial competitions but now these tournaments were more streamlined and organised. London hoisted the first world table tennis championship in 1927. By 1988, table tennis was accepted as an Olympic sport.
History of Ping Pong – Modern Times
In the next decade, major technical developments took place. The structure and the texture of the racket improved incredibly. This made them more agile and thus the speed of ping pong increased. Ping pong was no longer just a simple game played for relaxation; it was a serious sport which one has to master using a lot of technique and skill.
In fact, the speed of the game increased so much that there was a popular demand to form some regulations limiting the speed it was played at. This demand gained support when the TV audience for table tennis began to increase. It was becoming increasingly difficult to follow the game on television.
So, in 2000 the International Table Tennis Federation introduced a set of rules which increased the size of the ball to enable the sport to be slightly slower and the rallies (exchanges between players) to be longer.
Now, ping pong / table tennis is a well established sport all over the world. While it is more developed in certain parts of the world, it is still recognised as a prominent game in others. It is particularly popular in China and Japan, where it is played as a normal social activity and also on a professional level.
The history of ping pong shows how the game has come a long way in a relatively short period of time and how it has definitely made a mark in the history of sports.