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..?
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.
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.