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Table tennis dominance gives pause for thought among Chinese fans

By Yibada Thursday, 07 May 2015 18:00

When it comes to international sports, most are usually dominated by athletes from the U.S. and other Western nations. But when it comes to table tennis, China is undoubtedly the king.

Last week, China further cemented its status when Chinese players swept up the gold medals for the men's singles, women's singles, men's doubles and women's doubles at the recently concluded World Table Tennis Championship at Suzhou, Jiangsu Province.

The achievements of these Chinese stars were of no surprise to Chinese fans. As China's national sport, table tennis sits alongside the Great Wall and pandas as a source of pride for the country.

However, this pride also elicited criticism from the country's outspoken TV host Bai Yansong, who argued that the national team's frequent wins is bad for the sport. He also added that China's dominance in table tennis makes the sport a one-country show, which does not benefit either the sport or China itself.

But China's netizens are not that pessimistic. On the contrary, they believe the Chinese team's latest victory at Suzhou showcases the country's strength in the sport, and that the worldwide influence of table tennis is based on its own charm and not with its international status.

It should also be noted that when people start criticizing something that others feel proud of, patriotic Chinese citizens, even the cynical ones, will choose to fight back and protect the nation's pride. In the context of table tennis, such pride is deeply intertwined to historical sentiment.

At the turn of the 20th century, China was known around the world as the "sick man of Asia" and was barely a blip in international sports. This humiliation continued until Rong Guotuan won the men's singles gold at the table tennis world championships in 1959, rousing the country's pride and patriotism.

In the 1970s, "ping-pong diplomacy," a term used to describe the exchange of visits of table tennis players from China and the U.S., helped bring then U.S. president Richard Nixon to Beijing and led the way for normalization of Sino-U.S. ties.

But as China rises to the center stage, there has been a nationwide reflection of China's victories in sports, and many people started to ponder: are sports a tool to boost a nation's prominence or simply a means of fulfilling self-satisfaction?

Bai once said that table tennis would be the first sport to steer the Chinese people away from worshiping medals, and he might be correct on that one. It is also important to remember how to keep this sport relevant in the international arena and make it a competitive one.

Keep in mind that it was not so long ago that China's long-term dominance in table tennis has led to calls for the World Table Tennis Association to change the rules to set obstacles for Chinese players, which thankfully never led to fruition.

The Chinese people are willing to see the national team pitted against challenging players from all over the world, because that is what the game is all about. The world should keep a fair attitude toward the sport as well. The decline of table tennis would not only be a loss to China but also to the whole sporting culture as well.



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