Welcome to Sports Interrogation – bringing
you sports without the spin. In tonight’s episode we are introducing a
new special feature, the Real Rules of Table Tennis. Ever been playing a table tennis match and
found your opponent was getting away with murder, while the umpire did nothing about
it? Chances are that you were following the ITTF
official laws, while your opponent and umpire were using the real rules of table tennis. Doesn’t everybody obey the official laws as
set out by the ITTF? Sure they do, and if you believe that, then
I have some nice swamp land to sell you. We will begin our series by looking at some
of the most important real rules that you must know – the service rules. I dug up a copy of the official service laws,
and we went out on location to ask ping-pong players what the real rules are. Law 2 point 6 point 1 states that – Service
shall start with the ball resting freely on the open palm of the server’s stationary free
hand. Sounds simple enough. Never heard of that rule. Here’s how it really
is: The serve shall start after the server drops
the ball on the table and catches it at least 20 times. Bouncing the ball on the floor is
also permissible. On the twentieth bounce, the server will throw
the ball up, without holding the ball stationary at any time. The ball can be held by the server anyway
he feels like, in order to allow him to put spin on the ball whenever he needs a cheap
point. That doesn’t sound very fair to the opponent. Fair? Are you crazy? If I wanted a fair contest,
I wouldn’t have bothered boosting my racket! OK – on to the second rule. Law 2 point 6 point 2 says that – The server
shall then project the ball near vertically upwards, without imparting spin, so that it
rises at least 16cm after leaving the palm of the free hand and then falls without touching
anything before being struck. No way! Here’s the real rule: The server shall project the ball upwards
in any direction he feels like, before the ball is struck. Sideways, backwards, whatever
– as long as the ball doesn’t actually go down it’s fine. What about having to throw it at least 16cm
up? Yeah, well 16cm is about 6 inches long, and
you know how most guys have problems estimating that! Cut! Cut! Cut! Law 2 point 6 point 3 says – As the ball is
falling the server shall strike it so that it touches first his or her court and then,
touches directly the receiver’s court; In doubles, the ball shall touch successively
the right half court of server and receiver. For some strange reason everybody actually
seems to follow the official rule here. I’m not sure why this particular rule is considered
more important than the others. Go figure. Oh, except for in doubles, where if the ball
bounces anywhere near the centre line on the receiver’s court the receiver must immediately
catch the ball and call the ball out. Law 2 point 6 point 4 states – From the start
of service until it is struck, the ball shall be above the level of the playing surface
and behind the server’s end line, and it shall not be hidden from the receiver by the server
or his or her doubles partner or by anything they wear or carry. The server can’t hide the ball from the receiver?
Don’t make me laugh! Oh, that hurts! What happened to you? I called a fault on Ma Long during a big tournament. And he did that to you? No, the ITTF did. They don’t want umpires
to actually enforce the rules, they just want a nice quiet tournament with no controversy. What makes you say that? They haven’t been able to get the hidden service
rule right since around 2001. If it was important to them they would have fixed it by now, wouldn’t
they? Let’s look at Law 2 point 6 point 5 – As soon
as the ball has been projected, the server’s free arm and hand shall be removed from the
space between the ball and the net. The space between the ball and the net is defined by
the ball, the net and its indefinite upward extension. Well, that’s clear as mud. Look, it’s actually quite simple. As soon as the ball has been projected, the
server will pretend to remove his free arm and hand from the space between the ball and
the net, and the umpires will pretend to make sure that he is actually doing so. And the receiver will just have to pretend
that he can see the ball at all times. While the spectators will have to pretend that they
like watching the receiver constantly make simple looking mistakes. And the ITTF will pretend that people are
coming to watch professional table tennis? You got it! Want a job with our marketing
department? We are getting close to the end now, thank
goodness. Law 2 point 6 point 6 says the following – It
is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire
can be satisfied that he or she complies with the requirements of the Laws, and either may
decide that a service is incorrect. No, you have got it wrong. It is the responsibility of the player to
get away with anything he can, when it comes to breaking the serving rules, and to complain
loudly and bitterly if he actually has an umpire who decides to enforce the official
rules. Fortunately these umpires are rarer than a
professional player who doesn’t boost. It is the responsibility of the umpire to sit
there quietly and avoid making a scene. What did you do to end up in here? I was caught smuggling the world’s supply
of round plastic balls out of China. That’s all you did? Yeah, well, there are only three of them in
existence, so they are priceless. Where did you hide them? Don’t ask if you don’t want to know. OK. Cut! Cut! Cut! We are almost at the finish line now. Law 2 point 6 point 6 point 1 states – If
either the umpire or the assistant umpire is not sure about the legality of a service
he or she may, on the first occasion in a match, interrupt play and warn the server;
but any subsequent service by that player or his or her doubles partner which is not
clearly legal shall be considered incorrect. I don’t think this law actually made it out
of committee. In any case, in the real rules of table tennis if the umpire or the assistant
umpire is not sure about the legality of the serve they should sit there and say nothing
in case they upset the server. I mean, these professionals have spent years
learning how to serve the nastiest illegal serves, you can not just let all that hard
work go to waste. OK, the very last service rule. Thank God! Law 2 point 6 point 7 , which says – Exceptionally,
the umpire may relax the requirements for a correct service where he or she is satisfied
that compliance is prevented by physical disability. In the real world, the rule is actually this:
Exceptionally, the umpire may decide to call a fault for whatever reason if he is having
a bad day and feels a bit grumpy. Seriously? Well, almost. When you sit in the umpire’s
chair you have almost as much power as when you sit in the captain’s chair, although you
are a lot less likely to attract any females. Here’s a joke for you – what’s the difference
between the captain of the enterprise and an umpire who actually calls faults? I don’t know. What is the answer? One is a fictional brave hero in uniform,
and the other is Captain Kirk. Beam me off Scotty. Thank you for that thought provoking special
Lucy. Coming up after the break on Sports Interrogation:
this week’s top 10 serve return mistakes in table tennis. Watch players you don’t recognize,
mis-read spin you can not see, for reasons you don’t know. Yeah, I can’t wait for that one.

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Dennis Veasley

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