Table tennis origins
In table tennis, also known as ping-pong, two players or two pairs of players use bats to hit a lightweight, hollow ball over a net stretched across a waist-high hard surface (the ‘table’). Players must allow a ball only one bounce on their side of the table and must return it so that it bounces on the opposite side.
Table tennis began in England in the 1880s as a winter ‘parlour game’ for lawn tennis enthusiasts. By 1901 it had acquired the status of a serious sport, and it became an Olympic sport in 1988.
New Zealand beginnings
Public competitions were held in New Zealand as early as 1902, when Gisborne hosted a tournament. It was reported that, ‘The attendance was in keeping with the remarkable hold which this fascinating pastime has obtained on young and old.’1
During the 1930s several district associations were formed to administer table tennis and the New Zealand Table Tennis Association (NZTTA) was formed in Wellington in 1934. In 1996 it became Table Tennis New Zealand.
In 1949 Austrian-born Richard Bergmann, then the world singles champion and later the world’s first professional table tennis player, gave exhibition matches in a number of New Zealand towns. He wrote, ‘If you want a real thrill come to Wanganui, down under! Never in my life have I witnessed such wild scenes of enthusiasm.’ Even the 1948 world championship in London, he said, ‘was a well-mannered affair by comparison with the din of the Maoris, who clapped, laughed, and cheered themselves almost into hysterics.’2
The International Table Tennis Federation was formed in Berlin in 1926. In 1949 Norm Ballinger, then secretary of the NZTTA, was appointed a vice-president of the federation, becoming the first Australasian to hold the position.
‘Ping-pong diplomacy’ – tournaments played between politically hostile countries – was initiated by the People’s Republic of China in 1971. The following year the Chinese toured New Zealand, deliberately losing a few games to encourage the locals.
Te Whareteneti Davis
One of New Zealand’s greatest table tennis players was Te Whareteneti (Neti) Davis (later Traill). She became New Zealand junior champion at the age of 14 and later held the women’s singles title for eight years. In 1975 she and doubles partner Anne Stonestreet reached second place in the world championships.
By 2012 the best international result by an individual New Zealander was Li Chunli’s third placing in the 1997 Women’s World Cup. She went on to win a gold, silver and two bronze medals at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester. This was the first year table tennis was admitted as a Commonwealth Games sport.
Table Tennis New Zealand
In 2012 Table Tennis New Zealand represented 18 regional associations, with about 7,500 registered players. Social players numbered about 75,000.