Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Change in table tennis rule

Published:Monday | October 3, 2016 | 10:00 AMHubert Lawrence
China’s Wang Hao (left) and Ma Lin (right) place their gold medals on their coach, Liu Guoliang, as the team celebrated winning gold in the table tennis team competition at the Beijing 2008 Olympics.

Until October 1, coaches were restricted by the rules of the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) in the amount of advice they could give to their players during matches. Some of those restrictions were lifted on October 1.

Now, in addition to coaching before matches and during time-outs, players can receive advice when the ball is out of play.

The previous restriction constrained coaches to cheering from the sidelines and encouraging players in between points. The more crafty practitioners sometimes used hand signals, often pre-coded, to circumvent the old rules. Those who were caught were subject to ejection.

One famous case involved the current head Chinese men's coach, Liu Guoliang. Liu, World and Olympic champion as a player, was ejected in Tianjin, China, at the 2005 World Championship.

Apparently, in the opinion of the umpire, he was coaching outside the provisions of the rule. He was coaching Ma Lin in a difficult match against Petr Korbel of the Czech Republic.

The new provision has debuted at the men's table tennis World Cup currently being played in Berlin, Germany. At first glance, coaches are not behaving differently than before October 1. Until then, they were only able to advise their players before matches, between games and during 60-second time-outs. Each player is only allowed one time-out per match.

Judging from the play in Berlin, it does not appear that coaches are giving advice after every point as the change allows.

The ITTF decided on the change at its board meeting at the 2015 World Championships. The introduction follows tests of the new regulation in some leagues around the world, including in Germany.