(by Steve Hopkins)
As I write this post, there is a table tennis tournament going on right now. The fact that this is news is a sad commentary on how much the COVID-19 quarantines and safety guidelines have affected all sports worldwide.
The truth is that I don’t have a whole lot to report. Scoreboard.com shows 52 table tennis matches scheduled for today in the Setka Cup in Ukraine. I have little idea who the players are and the results page doesn’t even list the events that they are playing in -but they ARE playing. In fact, the only reason why I know that they are playing at all is that my State (Rhode Island) allows online sports betting, and after radio silence on the betting app, this weekend the app opened up international table tennis as a betting option. Yes, that’s right – we are so starved for live sports right now that the State of Rhode Island is accepting online betting for what appears to be a relatively minor open tournament in Ukraine. The scoring is registering live (V. Lvtvynov just scored a tight victory over I. Oranskyi), but this interest is being generated solely off of a scoreboard without the benefit of live video. The bar is pretty low when you are the only show in town – and right now, the Setka Cup is one of the very few live sporting events in the World.
For those interested, the Setka Cup does have a website where they list past event results and show player bios. And it also appears that they post videos of past events (here is an example on youtube from two weeks ago). But the story here is not that a player named V. Bilous is 5-0 and likely winning this tournament, the story is that the world is starved for sports and when we begin to emerge from these mandated cocoons, table tennis should be one of the sports that can be up and running almost immediately.
Our sport has some natural social distancing, our clubs can easily limit the number of players, and our equipment can be cleaned quickly and easily (potentially with one ball disinfected and drying while a point is being played with another ball). In fact, in regard to social distancing – a table tennis court can be limited to 2 (or 3 with an umpire) – and if you don’t change sides, the players are generally 9-15 feet apart.
The venue in the Setka Cup looked similar to a racquetball or squash court with walls on all sides. There were no fans. Towel breaks were handled away from the umpire. And the players used a quick fist bump when the match was complete. Overall, a pretty safe environment – at least on camera.
I look forward to seeing more table tennis – and hope that as sport begins to ramp up again that we have a window of opportunity to showcase our sport in the US (while baseball and basketball and football are calling their players together and running mini-training camps to get ramped up and ready for their seasons). In the meantime, if anyone has any inside info on Ukrainian player match-ups – there’s some money to be made.
ButterflyOnline looks forward to seeing everyone back on the courts when its safe.