I would have thought that everything that could be said about boosting table tennis rubber has been said already. It probably has. I addressed this a couple of years ago in Speed Glue, Prohibition, and the 55 mph Speed Limit Nothing has really changed since the writing of that post. Players who elect not to boost their rubber are often at a disadvantage, as the vast majority of professionals continue to boost. For the record, the official rule concerning this issue reads, “The racket covering shall be used without physical, chemical, or other treatment.” That seems pretty clear cut. This rule is brief, to the point,and reads like some kind of commandment. Maybe it would have been even clearer if the ITTF had just said, ” Thou shalt not boost thy table tennis rubber.”
If that is the intent of the ruling, it would seem like the ITTF would make some effort to enforce this rule. There are plenty of conspiracy theories as to why they don’t, but the bottom line is that they don’t now, never have, and likely never will enforce or clarify this rule. Some players have taken the high ground and obey this rule in it’s strictest sense, and choose to follow not just the spirit, but the letter of the law.
The problem with this rule as it currently stands is that it’s impossible to know what the spirit of the law actually is. Most players don’t realize how many racket coverings are available on the LARC (List Approved Racket Coverings)
Every one of these coverings is identified by the top sheet, with no mention of the sponge. One interpretation of the rule could be that boosting is legal, and rubber cleaner isn’t. The rule itself does not seem to be vague, but the complete lack of effort by the ITTF to enforce it, does call into question what the actual intent of the rule is.
I’m all for real justice in the world of table tennis. Some synonyms for justice are fairness, equity, even handedness, and perhaps most important, fair play.
Fair play – respect for the rules or equal treatment for all concerned
The ITTF expects players to respect the rules, but as long as there is no equal treatment for all concerned, the rule concerning racket coverings is not just. To boost, or not to boost, that is the question. Boosting your rubber might not even help your game. There are plenty of reasons not to boost that have nothing to do with following the rules. But, if the only reason you don’t boost is because you want to do the right thing, consider what justice there is in obeying an unjust law.
Perhaps I’m being a little too dramatic, and giving the ITTF too much credit for screwing things up. It might be that they really don’t realize the moral dilemma that players face as they strive to play their best, but don’t want to break the rules. Does the ITTF consider boosting a minor offense that they don’t want to deal with. Is boosting the moral equivalent of littering in a junkyard? I can rationalize the use of booster as well as anyone, and I’m glad that at least I have to struggle with my conscience over this issue. But, I’m tired of dealing with it. Boost if you want to, or if you feel you need to. I’m boosting some rubber sheets as I’m writing this. They’ll be fun to use while I’m coaching, and might provide my students with a taste of what they’ll likely face in tournaments. If I end up playing significantly better with boosted rubber, would I use it in a tournament? It’s funny that you should ask. The ITTF won’t.
Shortly after writing this blog post I discovered that the ITTF will be discussing changing the language of the rule concerning racket coverings at the 2018 World Championships. The new rule would allow for safe boosting and tuning.