OPINION: Table Tennis Should be a Varsity Sport
by: Derek Marshall
When is the last time the University of Windsor, or U Sports for that matter, added a new competitive varsity sport to the lineup?
No seriously, I’m asking, because I don’t know, and it is hard to pin down an exact date. Nonetheless, it is safe to say that it has been a while, especially considering the rate at which society is constantly evolving. To the outside observer, the university sports menu looks stagnant. It feels like the same 12 varsity sport offerings have remained constant through time.
So, it is time to mix things up.
U Sports should introduce table tennis to the competitive varsity sports lineup.
You’re smack-dab in the middle of the crowded bleachers in the St. Denis Centre. The seating has spectators closer to one another than they would be for a basketball game, with all eyes drawn to the table tennis table between them.
The house is packed, but you could hear a pin drop.
It is the final game of a three-game match against Western, and Windsor has the one-point advantage with one point to go.
The Windsor player serves to begin a ferocious rally, with the ball travelling so fast you begin to question how the players can even see it. The entire crowd is seemingly in a trance as the players engage in a spirited rally until finally, the Windsor player hits a beautifully placed shot. The Western player can only lob the ball high into the air as a rebuttal, offering Windsor an opportunity to smash on a silver platter. The Windsor player rears back and connects with the ball. It ricochets off the Western side and past their player, securing the victory. The crowd expels a thunderous roar, while Winston rushes the playing area to congratulate the player as only a mascot can.
The atmosphere is electric.
Now, this vision may seem far-fetched, but to the skeptics, I ask you: have you ever watched a table tennis match? Because table tennis rallies are exhilarating.
It’s okay if you’re not convinced, but there are reasons why it was introduced as an Olympic sport at the Seoul Games in 1988, and why it has thrived as such ever since.
Some of these reasons were discussed in conversations with Dr. Scott Martyn, a kinesiology professor at the University of Windsor and a Distinguished Professor at the Beijing Sport University in China who has researched the Olympic Movement in-depth.
For one, table tennis garners spectatorship because average people can connect with the sport relatively easily.
Just on the University of Windsor campus, there are tables to play in first-year residence halls, outside the Odette building, and in the Human Kinetics building. Off-campus, who knows how many students have a friend with a table or own a table themselves?
But this concept of approachability to the sport serves as a testament to why people would appreciate the opportunity to watch the elite-level competition. Having picked up a paddle and hit a ball around casually, the average person will be able to gauge the level at which varsity athletes perform, adding a “wow” factor that is far less accessible in other sporting contexts.
For another, table tennis helps address a dearth in the representation of non-Eurocentric sports in the contemporary Olympic movement. Table tennis has historically demonstrated significant popularity across various parts of Asia, thus, upon its introduction into the Olympic lineup, it helped entice a broad range of new consumers to engage with the Olympics Games.
If introduced as a varsity sport, it will likely encourage a variety of students that may not connect with the traditional sport offerings to engage with varsity athletics, thereby generating a deeper sense of campus pride for these individuals.
The only real argument against introducing table tennis as a varsity sport would be the costs associated with implementation.
However, existing facilities could be repurposed to house the matches, so the implementation cost isn’t too daunting. Existing event staff could be trained on how to effectively set up and manage the matches. Performing teams can only consist of one to two players, so athletic scholarships would be much less of an expense compared to other sports.
It can be done.
Admittedly, just in case you couldn’t tell, I enjoy table tennis. I will openly announce my bias. And although I don’t think I’d make the cut for a spot on the Lancer Table Tennis team, I’d certainly attend the matches, and I’d have a great time doing so.