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Thursday, 24 February, 2000, 16:07 GMT
Table tennis gets bigger ball

Table tennis is the third most popular racquet sport

It is a problem which had been troubling the sport's leading officials for some time.

How to make rallies in one of the fastest sports in the world last longer.

Like many modern day sports, technological advances in equipment have allowed players to greatly increase the pace and skill level of their game.

The ball will now be 10pc bigger
The use of specially-designed bats with rubber and sponge coverings treated with a special glue has increased elasticity and allowed players to hit the ball up to 20 percent faster than 20 years ago.

The effect has been that rallies are played at such speed they often last for less than three or four shots.

The International Table Tennis Federation even considered raising the net but decided against the idea.

Table tennis facts
The game was invented in England in the late 1800s
Table tennis balls are not hollow. They are pressurized slightly with a gas
World-class players can put up to 9000rpm of spin on table tennis balls
Table tennis is the third most popular racquet sport in the world
More than 17 million Americans play table tennis, more than play American football or baseball
Instead the ITTF has now decided to increase the diameter of the regulation ball from 38mm to 40mm.

It is the first change to table, net or ball since 1937.

The English Table Tennis Association says the change has "sent shock waves around the table tennis world".

What has surprised top players is the speed of the implementation - the new ball will be used from October 1.

The ETTA says Belarussian World No 1 Vladimir Samsonov has even threatened to pull out of the World Cup, which starts on October 12, because of the change.

"I would have had only three weeks to practice with the new ball," he says.

Two millimetres does not sound much but it effectively increases the size of the ball by 10pc.

The ITTF believe it will slow the game just enough to make it more exciting again - and restore its commercial appeal to the high-spending television companies.

The ITTF decided not to raise the net
However sceptics say top players will quickly adjust their game while it will spoil the fun of the millions of amatuer enthusiasts.

Alan Ransome, Chairman of the ETTA, said "(It is) just one of a series of measures likely to be agreed designed to make table tennis more attractive".

It will be more difficult to put spin on the larger ball and it will travel more slowly through the air, giving players longer to make their shots.

'Easier to learn'

It will also make it more visible to spectators and make the game easier to learn.

The rule change does not come into effect until October 1, meaning the old ball will be used at the Sydney Olympic Games.

It had been rejected at an earlier meeting, but only because the vote fell two short of the required 75 per cent majority needed to secure such a drastic change.

National associations will be able to opt out of using the new ball for internal competitions.

Mr Ransome said: "It is most likely that the AGM and National Council will agree to use the larger balls for competitions in our ranking points scheme from 1st September 2000, but allow local leagues and counties the option to continue for a period with the smaller ball for their internal competitions".

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