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.
Table tennis, along with badminton and lawn tennis, evolved from the ancient game of Tennis (also known as Jeu de Paume, Real tennis, Court Tennis or Royal Tennis).

Researcher Alan Duke discovered an English patent, No. 3156, dated 26 June 1883, by Ralph Slazenger, for nets. The net post mechanisms are described as follows - “This arrangement is adapted for ordinary lawn tennis, and for a modified game to be played indoors, say upon a billiard or dining table. In the latter case the poles are supported in brackets clamped to the table and the ends of the cord may be clamped by the cam arrangement, or fastened under the table, or weighted.” His conclusion was that, “this is possibly the earliest known reference to a table version of tennis (and, importantly, accurately dated)”, but there is currently no evidence that the game was developed. 

The earliest surviving game of tennis on a table is part of a compendium called Parlour Table Games, patented in England in 1890 (No.11037), made by David Foster. The tennis game has strung rackets, a 30mm cloth covered rubber ball, a wooden fence to set up around the edge and large nets for both sides of the table. A copy of the compendium rules, discovered at Cambridge University by Steve Grant (author of Ping Pong Fever: the Madness That Swept 1902 America and contributor to publications of the Museum of the International Table Tennis Federation), only has 3 rules for the tennis game, the 3rd of which refers to the game as Table Tennis. 

Steve Grant also found a 1901 interview, published in The Echo, with John Jaques, of the Jaques sporting goods firm, that mentioned James Devonshire, who Jaques claimed invented Table Tennis. He later found a record, in The Official Journal of the Patent Office, of Devonshire applying for a Patent on October 9, 1885 for his “Table Tennis”. The 24th Nov. 1885 issue of the Journal shows Provisional Specifications were accepted but by January 1887 the Application is listed as Abandoned. There is no evidence that Devonshire’s game, was ever produced. A feasible explanation is that Jaques paid Devonshire for his idea and that it was the basis of the Jaques game of Gossima, released in 1891.Gossima used drum style battledores from shuttlecock game, a 50mm webbed wrapped cork ball, with a 30cm high net secured by a belt-like strap under the table. 

Neither Parlour Table Games or Gossima were successful as a result of the ineffective balls. It was not until the introduction of the 38mm celluloid ball, in about 1900, that the concept of tennis on a table became successful and it started to be marketed under many different names, including, Ping Pong, Table Tennis, Whiff Waff, Parlour Tennis, Indoor Tennis, Pom-Pom, Pim-Pam, Netto, Clip-Clap, Royal Game, Tennis de Salon. 

In 1900, the Hamley Brothers in England, trademarked Ping Pong and soon after partnered with Jaques. Along with Parker Brothers, who acquired the American rights to the name Ping Pong, they rigorously enforced the trademark, requiring use of their equipment in tournaments and clubs. Eventually the commercial ties were cur to enable the sport to move forward. 

1922 saw the introduction of standard laws for the game in England.

Table tennis, a competitive sport

1926 saw the creation of the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) in Berlin, the adoption of a set of standardised Laws and the First World Championships, which were held in London, England. 

The Tenth World Championships in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in 1936, saw the longest rally, the first point taking over two hours as result of the style play. This led, in 1937, to the net being lowered to 6 inches (15.24cm) to encourage a more attacking style and time limits being imposed on matches. 

At the 1951 Stoke Mandeville Games, table tennis was a demonstration event played by four patients, Syd Taylor, Doug Traverse, Pierre Doucher and Charlie Groves, from the Star and Garter Home. It is recorded that the ‘winners’ of this demonstration were surprised to find that they were to receive a prize for their efforts at the prize giving ceremony. In 1952 it was upgraded to a full medal sport.

Archive video of table tennis in 1955 and 1964

Table tennis, a Paralympic sport

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 Paralympic Summer 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

Disclaimer -
Some information from earlier Paralympic Games (i.e. 1960-1988) such as relay and team members are not presented in the IPC source data. Therefore, final results, medal standings and derived statistics may not be complete.
Important note on the definition of participants: Only athletes that appear in the official results books in the section of final results are included in the database and counted towards participant statistics. Data for 2014 and 2016 are accurate. Statistics for previous Games are under review by the IPC.
Important note on competition partners: Competition partners eligible for medals are included in the combined participant statistics until 2014. Statistics for 2016 and beyond consider athletes with an impairment and their competition partners separately.

How table tennis has evolved

As with all sports the equipment (primarily the bats) has become more advanced and the technology has improved. Using the modern, specially developed high-tech rubber-coated wooden and carbon-fibre bats, competitors can now smash the ball at over 150 kilometres per hour.

Rules of table tennis

The game follows the same rules set out by the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF). However, they do include some modifications for those with a hand impairment, who do not need to throw up the ball when serving, and wheelchair athletes.
The Laws Of Table Tennis, as adopted by the ITTF inaugural general meeting in December 1926, along with a timeline list of subsequent changes, can be found on the ITTF website. 

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. 
Team events are played over the best of three matches – first a doubles, followed by one or two singles matches.

The table and net used in Paralympic table tennis have the same dimensions as those at the Olympic Games, with one modification, the table legs are at least 40cm inside the end line, to prevent wheelchair players hitting the table as they approach it. 

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

The BPA have created an online directory, Parasport, where you can search for and find out about sport and physical activity in your area.

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.ittf.com/history/documents/historyoftabletennis/
https://paralympics.org.uk/sports/table-tennis
https://www.olympic.org/table-tennis-equipment-and-history
http://blog.tabletennis11.com/table-tennis-ball-evolution

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