Table Tennis Chief Looks to Swimming for Solution

Adham Sharara, president of the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), was in China this weekend to cut the ribbon at a table tennis museum in Shanghai.

Among the hottest topics of discussion was the ITTF’s proposal that entries for the 2012 Olympics be limited from 3 to 2 from each country for each of the individual table tennis events. At their December Olympic Commission meeting, the measure was passed 13-1, and should become official after the ITTF’s General Assembly in May.

The lone dissenting vote was, not surprisingly, the Chinese representative, as the move was an obvious response to the Chinese confederation’s domination of the world table tennis scene. At the 2008 Olympics, the Chinese team swept all of the individual medals and won all of the doubles championships, meaning they won the maximum possible number of medals. The ITTF has become increasingly concerned that the Chinese domination is bad for the sport, as it makes it nearly impossible to generate any international buzz.

So, since this is a swimming website, you may be asking yourself what this has to do with swimming. As a part of his analysis of the decision, Sharara cited FINA’s decision following the 1980 Olympics (which the United States boycotted) to limit the number of entries a country is allowed in each event from 3 to 2. The apparent motivation was the domination of a limited few countries.

“But it’s not only in the ITTF. The swimming federation (FINA) did not want to see American dominance so it reduced the number of swimmers per country from three to two in individual events. Also, taekwondo does not want to see Koreans dominate, so they have a very strict rule of only one athlete per country per event,” Sharara said.

“The change in swimming is, of course, not good for the US, but the US accepted the change to support the International Olympic Committee (IOC). China also supported the change in swimming, so, to be consistent, China should also support the change in table tennis.”

Given the political timing of the decision, the United States was not necessarily the team that dominated the Olympiads immediately proceeding and following the FINA decision. The Russians and East Germans dominated 1980 sans Americans, and the East German’s won the most medals at the 1988 Games thanks to their “allegedly” chemically enhanced female squad.

But the decision was clearly a response to the American domination of the sport for the 2 decades earlier, especially on the men’s side. At the 1976 Summer Olympics, Americans won 24 out of 33 individual medals on the men’s side, or a whopping 73%. By 1992, the second full Olympiad after the ruling, this number had plummeted to a mere 10 out of 39, or 26%. Of course, it’s impossible to prove that this drop was accredited directly to the decision to limit the number of swimmers, but there is a chance that it worked.

But now that competitive swimming has propagated throughout the world, (FINA recently welcomed it’s 202nd member nation, Tonga) and other programs have been instituted to help infant swim associations gain Olympic berths, it begs the question about whether, now that the playing field has leveled somewhat, if it’s time to add the 3rd qualifier back in for certain nations. It’s understandable that things must be done to encourage the growth of the sport, but is it fair to prevent the 3rd best 100 butterflier (or table tennis player) in the world from earning an Olympic medal, just so that the 9th best swimmer in the world can earn a spot in the finals? With so many of the World’s elite swimmers now living and training in the United States, despite competing for other countries, should the Americans still be limited? Or do you think this decision will encourage swimmers with American citizenship to compete for other national federations in order to improve their chances at Olympic medals?

Let us know what you think!

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About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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