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Is China’s Continued Dominance At Table Tennis Their Fault?

Victories by Zhang Jike in the men’s singles and Guo Yue and Liu Xiaoxia in the women’s doubles brought the recent edition of the World Table Tennis Championships in Rotterdam, Holland to a close. Once again, China made a clean sweep of all medals that were on offer at the biennial event organized by the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF).

While retaining the titles was a great achievement for the Chinese national team, the question of whether China’s dominance of the sport arises again throughout the table tennis community. Since 2005, China has held possession of all the titles in the sport with Austrian Werner Schlager temporarily breaking the dominance in 2003 by winning the men’s singles title.

As the ITTF and the China Table Tennis Association (CTTA) have expressed several times before in interviews, China’s domination of table tennis is not healthy for the sport. This has been talked about for years, but only brought more into light back in 2009 after the last championships in Yokohama, Japan.

While the ITTF and CTTA have admitted that China’s domination of table tennis is detrimental to the sport, the question is what solutions have they put forward to rectify this problem? If you watched these championships and past, you probably have seen various Chinese table tennis players representing other nations such as Spain, Austria and the United States. However, the naturalization of players just so they can play for other nations is not a long term solution to the problem and, as you can see from the various competitions, it still has not worked in their favor.

The CTTA has implemented a program that invites foreign table tennis players to China in order to receive training. Though it has just recently started, it is still too early tell whether any of the foreign players will be able to transfer this training into winning tournaments against their Chinese competitors. Perhaps results from this training scheme will not be seen for several months.

Here is another question that comes to mind about China’s dominance in table tennis. Can they be blamed for the lack in parity in the sport? This writer believes the answer to this question is no.

If one looks at the setup between the Chinese team and their counterparts, there are stark differences. For one, the Chinese national team is setup so that the top players are trained in the national team rather than at the provincial level. Therefore, all of their focus and energy is solely on training and playing for the national team. Of course China, like their counterparts, has an established professional league since 1998, but it is merely used for the top players to maintain their sharpness when international competitions are not being played. So, playing for the national team is their full-time job.

Whereas the national team is the sole focus of the top players in China, it seems that commitments to club teams hinder the progress of non-Chinese players on the international stage. A combination of national league matches and table tennis’ form of the European Champions League prevent some of the world’s top players outside of China from participating in the various ProTour events held throughout the year.

Also, as ITTF President Adham Sharara stated in an interview with Xinhua, there is a lack of competitiveness within teams from other countries. Most of the top players in Europe and other Asian countries do not have competition within their own ranks that is pushing them day in and day out during training.

So, where does the real reform begin in making table tennis more competitive and attractive to the masses again? The real answers are going to have to come from within the other table tennis federations.

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