Two and a half years since blustering Boris famously highlights the merits of whiff-whaff, it was announced last week that the British Olympic Association would allow Team GB players to compete in the London 2012 table tennis competition under the ‘hosts privilege’ rule.
Following ‘detailed consultation’ with the British Table Tennis Federation, Team GB will be represented in both the singles and team events in London 2012. With no players ranked inside the top 100, table tennis was one of several sports tasked with meeting agreed criteria about legacy and impact prior to being awarded the place reserved especially for the hosts. Despite the calculated funding gamble failing to (yet) create any world class players, the efforts of the sports administrators have been rewarded.
Failing to allow the British players to participate would have been ridiculous. The Olympics is in Britain for the first and last time in most of our lifetimes; after football and running, table tennis is one of the most accessible sports in the Games – it is played indoors, requires minimal and cheap equipment, doesn’t require much space, is easy to understand and play, and, can be played in thousands of schools and leisure centres throughout the UK. Of equal import, it has a truly diverse following, with none of the demographic limitations that many other Olympic sports struggle to combat.
This is a sport which – unlike medal-heavy activities such as sailing or rowing – could leave a genuine legacy in the UK. Currently ranked 106 and 136 in the world respectively, Paul Drinkhall and Kelly Sibley will be favourites to fill the respective single singles places (presuming, of course, that no GB player qualifies by right). Neither will win a medal, but that’s not the point. If you fancy a spot of plucky-British loser-syndrome, get yourself a visa card and head to the Excel arena on 28 July next year to witness the day that ping-pong finally comes home.
UPDATE: On 12 April the BOA added wrestling to the growing number of events in which Team GB will be allowed to participate regardless of international qualification standards. The press release confirmed that: ‘wrestling, fencing, synchronised swimming, beach volleyball, basketball, table tennis, judo, handball, indoor volleyball, water polo and weightlifting will be able to take up Home Nation Places at the London 2012 Olympic Games’. Will tug-of-war be next?