table tennis

table tennis
   Table tennis has never been a huge spectator sport in Britain, and the professional game faces clear problems in the late 1990s in terms of financial viability and performances. The men’s national team were relegated from the top division of the European SuperLeague in 1996 (for the first time since 1984), although the women did far better. The 1997 World Championships, held in Britain, rekindled some public interest.
   1996 also saw the formation of a World Grand Prix circuit, including the English Open, but despite featuring the world’s top players, lack of television interest remained the central problem. Previous attempts to get television coverage have largely failed: for the showcase 1977 World Championships, held in Britain, the English Table Tennis Association obtained commercial sponsorship and BBC coverage, but the forty hours of play the BBC broadcast failed to attract large ratings. By the mid-1980s, the sport was getting on average just two hours coverage a year, a situation not helped by stars like Desmond Douglas leaving to play in Germany. When he returned in 1987 the sport again tried to generate television interest, by adding extra colour and glitz to proceedings, but this failed once more, leading to the view that table tennis is simply too fast a sport to be successfully televised. It is a measure of the difficulties that table tennis faces that the ETTA did not expect to secure any television coverage for the 1996 English Open, because it clashed with the University Boat Race. That said, the sport remains professional, with a British club league (though some top British players have moved to play in Europe), but the warning signs are clear; the top club, Grove, lost its remaining three professional players in September 1996 when it could not pay their wages.
   As a participant sport, table tennis is popular in the UK, since it is cheap and easy to learn, and participation is particularly strong in higher education. However, this has not been translated into a strong professional circuit or a high media profile, and since it is clear that since particularly the 1980s, all sports need sustained television exposure (and the sponsorship it brings) to generate a mass public appeal, table tennis will remain in this minority position until it is able to interest television in its events.
   See also: tennis
   Further reading
    Myers, H. (1987) Table Tennis, London: Faber.
   REX NASH

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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