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August 22, 2008

The Olympics: Bikini Table Tennis?

What do beach volleyball and table tennis have in common? Not much, but that may change if some table tennis officials have their way.

Table tennis doesn't quite make the list of most popular sports in the world, and recent reports indicate that some members of the International Table Tennis Federation think the outdated baggy uniforms may be partly to blame. There's not necessarily anything wrong with wanting to update the uniforms, and judging by this New York Times piece, it seems that there are a bunch of male and female players who are ready for a change, and one even suggests that an updated uniform might help her game.
“Some say, this is what they wore 20 years ago already,” said Süss, gesturing at his loose gray shorts, which did not match his polo shirt, which was done up in Germany’s national colors of red, yellow and black. “Now we are such a professional sport. You see the tables and everything else looking different. But the clothes? Yeah, we have to improve a little bit more.”

Gao Jun of the United States was stuck with a navy zip-up shirt and a pair of baggy shorts with an elastic waistband. “I would like to see the girls wear a skirt,” Gao said Wednesday after defeating her miniskirted opponent, the Slovak Eva Odorova, 4-2, in the second round of women’s singles. “When I practice, I do wear a skirt. We just receive this, you know,” she said, motioning to her outfit, “so I will wear what it is we received.”

The idea pleased Zhang Yining, a table tennis player who is a household name in China. Zhang’s cropped hair gives her a tomboy look, but she recently posed for a glamorous photo shoot on a Chinese Web site. In an interview after defeating Pavlovich, 4-0, Wednesday, she said she would appreciate clothes that maximized speed and spinning the ball. “I’d love to see tighter and shorter sleeves,” she said.

The problem comes when 'hey, it might be a good idea to update our uniforms' seems to really mean 'let's try to boost the popularity of our sport by sexing up only our female athletes'.
We are trying to push the [female] players to use skirts and also nicer shirts, not the shirts that are made for men, but ones with more curves,” International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) vice president Claude Bergeret said.

“It’s just a question of being well-dressed,” said Claude Bergeret, a Frenchwoman who is the executive vice president of the federation. “We say in French, ‘ne pas être habillée comme un sac à patates.’ ” Or, you do not want to be dressed like a sack of potatoes.

Several players agree. “That is a very good idea, actually a must. Look at those tennis players — miniskirts, tight shirt,” said Lau Sui Fei, a player from Hong Kong, in an interview after defeating the French player Xian Yi Fang, 4-1, in the second round of women’s singles Wednesday. “When I play for a European club, my boss required me to dress pretty. Otherwise, how can you attract more spectators?”

Really? This is the only way to attract new spectators? Not campaigns to raise awareness about the sport, maybe visiting schools to try to get younger kids into it, or trying to get some more programs started in countries where the sport is less popular? A miniskirt isn't the only way to attract more spectators; it's just, apparently, the easiest.

The Times also mentions that table tennis has a big age range, with some players continuing into their 40s and 50s, which makes it more difficult to come up with a new uniform that will work for everyone. But we think it would be a little easier if officials focused more on what will help table tennis players perform the best at their sport, and stopped fantasizing about winning over beach volleyball fans. (The comparisons to 'regular' tennis are a lot more understandable, at least.)
Bob Fox, the United States’ team leader in table tennis, said he favored spicing up the uniforms if for no other reason than it may attract new fans. “I mean, look at beach volleyball,” he said. “I don’t think I need to say anything else.”
Nope, we hear you loud and clear, Bob. You're announcing that you're going to compete from now on in a tiny bikini. We'll be watching!

Actually, maybe Bob is onto something. Maybe this is an opportunity to bring a little balance back to the Olympics. If beach volleyball is going to stick with their bikinis for women and baggy shorts and tanks for the men, let's do the reverse for table tennis. Let the women wear shorts and comfy t-shirts, and make the men wear the same uniforms that male divers wear.

We think it's only fair.

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Anonymous said...

I agree! Even the male gymnasts uniforms were a little too loose.

My daughter (age 20) and I were rating packages. We gave that diver a 3.1 on a 10 scale. Now that scarred up Russian diver. He got a 7.

Jezebel said...

writechic, that's too funny. We'll have to come watch the next Olympics with you.

Some of the cycling events were pretty hilarious on that score too. Which, you know, it makes sense. But it's still funny.

Anonymous said...

I didn't even think to zone in the bikers, damn. It's like window shopping, you know. Better than kilts.