What happens when a law is passed and a good portion of those affected strongly object to it? We’ll get back to that in a minute. This weekend I had the opportunity to participate in a really great tournament at Triangle Table Tennis in North Carolina. If you are not familiar with Triangle, it is the standard by which all other table tennis centers will be judged. I have never before seen a tournament venue or training facility with such excellent playing conditions.
I also saw some of the most talented players that I have seen competing in quite awhile. It also appeared that at least some of the players were using boosters or speed glue on their rackets. There is absolutely no way of knowing how much was taking place, since there was no attempt to test rackets and — even if there had been — current testing methods can’t detect every possible way that table tennis rubbers can be altered.
The rules against the use of speed glue and boosters are about as effective in the world of table tennis as alcohol prohibition in the 1930’s and the 55 mph national maximum speed limit of the 1970’s. If a rule is unenforceable, unpopular, and ignored, even by those charged with enforcing it (umpires, referees), maybe it’s time to consider some changes. Personally, I am not a fan of rubber boosting, but then, I also don’t drink and I drive really slowly.
The current state of table tennis has created an environment where it appears that the message on boosting is a variant of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Every time a coach boosts the rubber for one of his students, the message is that it’s okay to cheat if you don’t get caught — or that this is a rule that nobody obeys anyway. Most players would like to play legally, but some have rationalized racket tampering, perhaps feeling that the ITTF is taking all the joy out of the game with these types of rules. Racket tampering is not limited to boosting. There are ways to make pips frictionless, in violation of ITTF rules as well.
There is a solution to this problem, and oddly enough, we can learn it from the United States government. When the 55 mph speed limit was changed, in some places it went to 65 instead of 70, which it had previously been. Plenty of people still sped, but the 65 mph limit was more practical and more enforceable too.
If the ITTF were to legalize nontoxic glues and boosters, remove some of the restrictions on pips, and use devices that would detect blatant toxic glue users, perhaps this hypocrisy would end. Part of the fun of table tennis has become the search for the perfect paddle. This can be good and unique to our sport.
Our sport is fast and from what I see, it’s getting faster. The frustration of the current situation is not dealing with the speed, but dealing with a sport that, perhaps more than most, rewards those who break the rules. Finding some middle ground, creating enforceable rules, and leveling the playing field are what will improve table tennis. Until then, the results of every match are suspect, and that’s a really big elephant that can fill up even the biggest and best tournament sites.