It’s Raining in Tokyo!

In fact, not only raining – it’s pouring – it’s cold and it’s coming from the north. At least that was what I was told on the train today. Could turn white in a hurry they said. Spring in this wonderful and spectacular city seems far away “Days like this”.

Anyway, what are the ITTF Education and Training Director doing in Japan some two weeks prior to the World Championships in Dortmund you may ask?

Well, I am here to wrap up a complex mission handed to me by the ITTF Executive Committee. It has do to with the completely “not cool at all” subject of ITTF Racket Control.   I am part of a group trying to find a solution to a problem in our sport that just doesn’t want to go away. We are in situation having some players obey the rules (no boosters, no tuning of the racket) playing against those who is doing whatever they are doing to gain a few extra procentages when it comes to speed and spin.

ITTF Executive Vice President, the energetic, never ageing Japanese dynamo,   seventy- one year young Mr Koji Kimura is hosting and arranging the meeting protocol. It’s been interesting to meet up with the Japanese manufacturers – to visit the Tamasu Butterfly production plant and to last and not least meet up with the Japanese national team to discuss their view on the current situation fair play bound as they are.   As always Mr Kimura is a man of many trades and owner of ideas.. Here is a new one that perhaps can fly if supported with serious research and some modifications..?

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The whole thing would of course be a piece of cake if we had reliable methods to catch the bad guys and secure fair play according to our rules. Unfortunately this is not the case – especially when it comes to the use of boosters and tuners and potential cheating with the thickness of the rubbers. The last part is the worst if you ask me.  To have athletes carving, preparing the blade in such a way that it would cover for the use of expanded , much  thicker rubbers than allowed,   is of course not acceptable and should be stopped.

Solutions are not simple. Until now, we have not found a method to measure thickness accurately with the rubber attached to the blade.  The use of ultrasonic equipment does not work well with the combination of wood, multilayer rubbers and pimples. Tough one indeed and most likely not possible in the future unless changes are made to the specifications of the blade, for example to allow reflective materials to be used in the production… But this is really a long shot and will take time.

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Research indicates that it is possible to detect the use of boosters and tuners. But then we are talking a combination of visual inspections, potential  lab function – much improved approval system in order to create accurate reference samples and also , not to forget , a rule that would allow us to order athletes to separate the rubbers from the blade if indications are pointing towards illegalities.

Having been on the other side of the fence (floor duties as an international coach) for many years I do understand the stress, the unrest that any control based system causes for the athletes. And yes, for sure – we should address many other things in the sport of table tennis as well. On top of that does the health theory really stick when it comes to boosters and tuners – baby oil based what have you?

Many questions – complex issues for sure.  One the important things and easily forgotten by advocates for a more relaxed approach is the public image of our sport. The moment we allow preparation of the rubbers with tuners or boosters, we will in a heartbeat have the market flooded with various types of presumed and marketed as performance enchaining solvents.  Then, let’s quickly forget the non harmful baby oil theory, as we will find ourselves dealing with open preparation in and around events by players using basically petrochemical spill products.

Not good if you ask me. Better method is to dig deep and try to squeeze the cheaters with a set of rules that eventually can weed them out and reinforce law and order in our sport again. Having said that we also have to walk away from the every day, every minute control to avoid failing mentality that we have created. We have voluntary tests allowed and loosely monitored, we have pre match test – we have after match tests.   Go figure the athletes are feeling annoyed or, perhaps in some cases even encouraged to try to disturb the system.  Imagine yourself controlled at breakfast, lunch and dinner.. Have you shaved today, brushed your teeth using the good toothpaste?!

Could it be that we radically have to rethink the system of approach as well to go along with a stricter, more accurate and simplified testing protocol? Perhaps it would indeed be much better if we applied the “equipment doping” mindset instead of the one based on control at all costs to avoid failure.

What about a fully equipped and fully authorized “equipment doping test unit” to show up unannounced at events and have umpires driving the actual testing protocol in combination with a players challenge system?  Just a thought – one of many at this point.

Well – we shall see what happens. Anything of this nature will have to pass several levels of political press and stress prior to becoming a ruling reality.

Stay tuned for more debate. Whether you like or not? Eventually a solution will be found.   

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “It’s Raining in Tokyo!

  1. Alaa Meshref

    Nice work Mikael. BUT. I believe the ITTF is looking to one side of the coin, which is picking the cheaters. The other side of the coin is also very important, and this is having a negative test for non-cheaters. This is also not achieved. And it may drive non-cheaters to cheat to pass an inaccurate testing strategy. In medicine, tests are measured by their sensitivity and specificity. Sensitivity is positivity in disease (a positive test for cheaters). Specificity is negativity in health (negative test for non-cheaters). Usually, when u increase the sensitivity of a test it starts to lose specificity. This is not the goal. We need as much as possible, a test with high sensitivity and specificity. Another important parameter of the test is its simplicity and availability. We shouldn’t need to do sofisticated tests so tough that we need a physics lab in NASA or the MIT. We need a simple, available test, that even poor countries without a high budget can afford. A test that is simple such that players can assure their rackets are ok before going to tournaments. We need tests that don’t raise the price of rubbers and technologies in table tennis which decrease the spread of the game. I assure u that in Egypt, most clubs and players play with the old speed glue because they cannot afford the new rubbers that are fast enough without tuning, etc. The health condition of local players is not taken care of by the sofisticated rules and equipment.
    I think it is a very complicated and very crucial part of the game, that needs optimum concern from all responsible parties. GOOD LUCK.

    • Thanks.. I agree in principle . At the same time – the ITTF needs to focus on the prime ITTF events first and foremost to secure that a world champion plays according to the existing rule. It is , in my opinion very complicated to find ” on the top” a method that can apply to all events in all countries.. This is indeed an intellectual challenge more than anything else.. Anyway . Lets see what happens.

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