Table Tennis, a history

It is unknown exactly how and where table tennis began but it was popular with the upper classes in the second half of the nineteenth century as a way to pass time after dinner. By the twentieth century equipment was being manufactured commercially and the sport had moved away from being solely a pastime in the parlours of the upper classes and into the mainstream. By the 1920s leagues had been founded all around the country and in 1926 the English Table Tennis Association was founded.

Table tennis was introduced by Dr Guttmann at Stoke Mandeville as part of the rehabilitation for spinal injury patients.

Table Tennis, a competitive sport

Para table tennis became part of the Stoke Mandeville Games (the forerunner of the Paralympics) before being one of the sports included in the inaugural Paralympics in Rome in 1960.

Archive video of table tennis in 1955 and 1964

Table Tennis, a Paralympic event

Para table tennis has been played at every Paralympics since the inaugural games in Rome 1960. (Conversely it did not make its Olympic debut until Seoul in 1988).

It is the third largest Paralympic sport in terms of numbers of athletes and played in more than 100 countries. 

Men and women compete in both singles, doubles and team events.

Table Tennis at the Summer Paralympic Games

  • 1960 Rome, Italy – 11 events, 10 countries and 35 athletes (20 men and 15 women) competed
  • 1964 Tokyo, Japan - 12 events, 11 countries and 51 athletes (31 men and 20 women) competed
  • 1968 Tel Aviv, Israel - 15 events, 27 countries and 279 athletes (186 men and 93 women) competed
  • 1972 Heidelberg, Germany - 19 events, 27 countries and 112 athletes (68 men and 44 women) competed
  • 1976 Toronto, Canada - 28 events, 29 countries and 265 athletes (196 men and 69 women) competed
  • 1980 Arnhem, Netherlands - 32 events, 33 countries and 270 athletes (201 men and 69 women) competed
  • 1984 New York, USA and Stoke Mandeville, UK – 44 events, 23 countries and 101 athletes (70 men and 31 women) competed
  • 1988 Seoul, South Korea – 37 events, 38 countries and 294 athletes (247 men and 47 women) competed
  • 1992 Barcelona, Spain – 30 events, 40 countries and 265 athletes (207 men and 58 women) competed
  • 1996 Atlanta, USA – 28 events, 31 countries and 210 athletes (154 men and 56 women) competed
  • 2000 Sydney, Australia – 30 events, 40 countries and 270 athletes (195 men and 75 women) competed
  • 2004 Athens, Greece – 28 events, 43 countries and 239 athletes (174 men and 65 women) competed
  • 2008 Beijing, China – 24 events, 45 countries and 264 athletes (168 men and 96 women) competed
  • 2012 London, UK – 29 events, 47 countries and 276 athletes (174 men and 102 women) competed

British Table Tennis medal winners

  • 1960 Rome, Italy
    Tommy Taylor - gold in Men's Singles A
    Barbara Anderson - gold in Women's Singles A
    Tommy Taylor, Michael Beck - gold in Men's Doubles A
    Edwards, Gubbin - silver in Women's Doubles C
    Michael Beck - bronze in Men's Singles A
    Gubbin - bronze in Women's Singles C
    Ronnie Foster, Phillips - bronze in Men's Doubles B
    Phillips, George Swindlehurst - bronze in Men's Doubles C
    Susan Masham, Froggart - bronze in Women's Doubles B 
  • 1964 Tokyo, Japan
    Tommy Taylor - gold in Men's Singles A2 
    Paul Lyall - gold in Men's Singles B 
    Tommy Taylor, Michael Beck - gold in Men's Doubles A2 
    Gwen Buck, Susan Masham - gold in Women's Doubles B 
    Michael Beck - silver in Men's Singles A2 
    Susan Masham - silver in Women's Singles B 
    Jimmy Gibson, George Swindlehurst - silver in Men's Doubles C 
    Marjorie Cooper, Diana Thompson - silver in Women's Doubles C 
    Jimmy Gibson - bronze in Men's Singles C 
    Paul Lyall, Hugh Stewart Mackenzie - bronze in Men's Doubles B 
    Sheelagh Jones, Carol Tetley - bronze in Women's Doubles B
  • 1968 Tel Aviv, Israel
    Paul Lyall - gold in Men's Singles B 
    Tommy Taylor, Stephen Bradshaw - gold in Men's Doubles A2 
    Barnard, Carol Bryant - gold in Women's Doubles C 
    Carol Bryant (also known as Caz Walton) - silver in Women's Singles C 
    Paul Lyall, G. Monoghan - silver in Men's Doubles B 
    Ruth Brooks, Levers - silver in Women's Doubles A2 
    Gwen Buck, Susan Masham - silver in Women's Doubles B 
    G. Monoghan - bronze in Men's Singles B 
    Susan Masham - bronze in Women's Singles B 
    Shelagh Finnegan, J. Swann - bronze in Women's Doubles B
  • 1972 Heidelberg, Germany
    Carol Bryant - gold in Women's Singles 4 
    Barbara Anderson, Jane Blackburn - gold in Women's Doubles 1A-1B
    Jane Blackburn - silver in Women's Singles 1B 
    J. Swann - silver in Women's Singles 3 
    Philip Lewis, Derek Williams - silver in Men's Teams 2 
    Gwen Buck, Sally Haynes - silver in Women's Teams 3 
    Stephen Bradshaw - bronze in Men's Singles 1B 
    G. Monoghan - bronze in Men's Singles 3 
    Paul Lyall - bronze in Men's Singles 4 
    Gill Matthews - bronze in Women's Singles 2 
    Gwen Buck - bronze in Women's Singles 3 
    O’Brien - bronze in Women's Singles 4 
    Tommy Taylor, Stephen Bradshaw - bronze in Men's Doubles 1B 
    Paul Lyall, Neil MacDonald - bronze in Men's Teams 4 
    Gill Matthews, Davina Ingrams - bronze in Women's Teams 2 
  • 1976 Toronto, Canada
    Stephen Bradshaw - gold in Men's Singles 1B
    Jane Blackburn - gold in Women's Singles 1B
    Tommy Taylor, Stephen Bradshaw - gold in Men's Doubles 1B
    M. Jones, G. Matthews - silver in Women's Teams 2
    Gwen Buck, J. Swann - silver in Women's Teams 3
    B. Speedy - bronze in Men's Singles E
    Gill Matthews - bronze in Women's Singles 2
    Jane Swann - bronze in Women's Singles 3
    Carol Bryant - bronze in Women's Singles 4-5
    D. Leake, Derek Williams - bronze in Men's Teams 2
    McDonald, D. Riches - bronze in Men's Teams 4-5 
  • 1980 Arnhem, Netherlands
    Tommy Taylor - gold in Men's Singles 1B
    Jane Blackburn - gold in Women's Singles 1B
    A. Smith - gold in Women's Singles C
    S. Bradshaw, T. Taylor - gold in Men's Teams 1B
    Jane Blackburn, G. Matthews - silver in Women's Teams 2
    B. Gibbs, J. Swann - silver in Women's Teams 4 
    Jane Swann - silver in Women's Singles 3 
  • 1984 New York, USA & Stoke Mandeville, UK 
    Jane Blackburn - gold in Women's Singles 1B
    Becker - gold in Women's Singles 1C
    Team GB - gold in Women's Teams 1A-C
    Tony Edge - silver in Men's Singles 1B
    Allen Francis - silver in Men's Singles C1
    Dzaier Neil - silver in Women's Singles 1C 
    J. Petersen - silver in Women's Singles C3
    Margaret Heald - silver in Women's Singles L3
    John Welsh - bronze in Men's Singles L1 
    A. Smith - bronze in Women's Singles L4
    Mick Dolan, Brian Smith - bronze in Men's Teams 1A
    Tony Edge, James Munkley, Tom Doughty - bronze in Men's Teams 1B
    Anne Peskey, Dawn Jackson - bronze in Women's Teams 2 
  • 1988 Seoul, South Korea
    David Hope - gold in Men's Singles TT4
    Val Beck, Anne Peskey - silver in Women's Teams 2
    Arnie Chan, Neil Robinson - bronze in Men's Teams 3 
  • 1992 Barcelona, Spain
    Phillip Evans, James Rawson, Neil Robinson - gold in Men's Teams 3
    Neil Robinson - silver in Men's Singles 3
    David Hope, David Young - bronze in Men's Teams 8 
    Arnie Chan - bronze in Men's Singles 4 
  • 1996 Atlanta, USA
    Neil Robinson - silver in Men's Singles 3
    James Rawson - bronze in Men's Singles 3
    James Rawson, Neil Robinson - bronze in Men's Teams 3  
  • 2000 Sydney, Australia
    James Rawson, Neil Robinson, Stefan Trofan - silver in Men's Teams 3
    Catherine Mitton - bronze in Women's Singles 1-2 
  • 2004 Athens, Greece
    James Rawson, Neil Robinson, Stefan Trofan - silver in Men's Teams 3
    Catherine Mitton - bronze in Women's Singles 1-2 
  • 2008 Beijing, China
    No medals 
  • 2012 London, UK
    Will Bayley - silver in Men's Singles Class 7
    Paul Davies - bronze in Men's Singles Class 1
    William Bayley, Aaron McKibbin, Ross Wilson - bronze in Men's Teams Classes 6-8
    Jane Campbell, Sara Head - bronze in Women's Teams Classes 1-3

How Table Tennis has evolved

As with all sports the equipment (primarily the bats) has become more advanced and the technology has improved. 

Initially the sport was not split into as many classes and was only open to wheelchair users. However, this has now expanded to 11 classifications encompassing all disabilities (apart from visual impairment).

Rules of Table Tennis

Para table tennis athletes are split into 11 classifications. The first 5 (1-5) are for wheelchair users whereas classes 6-10 are for those who are able to play standing. The final class (11) is for those with an intellectual disability. Within each group the higher the classification number, the more function the athlete has. There are no circumstances apart from visual impairment that excludes players.

There are singles, doubles and (from the 1972 Games) team events across all classifications.

The game follows the same rules set out by the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF). However, they do include some modifications for wheelchair athletes and those with a hand impairment do not need to throw up the ball when it comes to serving. 

Each match has 5 sets with each set being won by the player(s) who reach 11 points first (with a 2-point margin) and the server changes every 2 points. The overall match is decided using a ‘best of five’ format.

Governing bodies

The International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) is the international governing body. 

British Para Table Tennis (BPTT), also known as the British Table Tennis Association for People with Disabilities (BTTAD), is the national governing body, working in close conjunction with the national governing bodies for the Home Nations.

Regional clubs

England
Table Tennis England run a programme called PremierClub Ability for Premier Clubs committed to becoming accessible and open to all disabled people.

Clubs affiliated to Table Tennis England can be found here using a postcode-based search. 

Scotland
Table Tennis Scotland has a list of clubs, contacts and a telephone number for more information. 

Wales
Table Tennis Wales has a list of clubs, including accessibility information, here. 

Northern Ireland
Table Tennis Ulster has a list of clubs here.

References
https://www.britishparatabletennis.com/
https://www.paralympics.org.uk/sports/table-tennis
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Para_table_tennis
https://www.paralympic.org/table-tennis
http://www.uksport.gov.uk/sports/paralympic/para-table-tennis
https://www.paralympic.org/sdms4/hira/web

Table Tennis stories

Head and shoulders photo of Hugh Stewart Mackenzie

Hugh Stewart Mackenzie - Table tennis at Tokyo

Hugh was a member of the GB team who went to the 1964 Tokyo games; with Paul Lyall they won the Bronze medal in the Table Tennis Men’s Doubles B competition. Read more

Philip Lewis playing table tennis at Stoke Mandeville in 1963

Table Tennis Athlete Philip Lewis

"One of the physios at Stoke Mandeville, Bill Preston, was a good league table tennis player and he spotted that I was a good player despite my high level lesion." Read more

Rainer Kuschall racing in 1992

Table Tennis Athlete Rainer Kuschall

Rainer Kuschall learned to play table tennis at Stoke Mandeville and went on to compete as part of the Swiss team from 1968. Read more

Susan Baroness Masham of Ilton remembers the Rome Games, 1960

Lady Susan Masham won three gold medals in the 1960 Games. Read more