Table tennis: ITTF to revamp pro structure in 'game-changing' deal

From left: ITTF president Thomas Weikert, Sportsmaster founder Frank Ji and ITTF CEO Steve Dainton at yesterday's launch.
From left: ITTF president Thomas Weikert, Sportsmaster founder Frank Ji and ITTF CEO Steve Dainton at yesterday's launch.ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

World federation says 'game-changing' deal will increase prize money, commercial value

Chinese paddler Fan Zhendong earned US$100,000 (S$133,000) last December after winning the men's singles title at the season-ending World Tour Grand Finals. In contrast, Bulgarian tennis player Grigor Dimitrov and American golfer Jordan Spieth took home £1.9 million (S$3.4 million) and US$1.85 million respectively for their victories at last year's ATP Finals and British Open.

The International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) hopes to narrow this gap in prize money and also raise the profile of its star players through a new partnership with marketing agency Sportsmaster.

From 2021, ITTF tournaments and programmes will be split into two platforms - professional and institutional - with both competition types awarding world ranking points and linked to the Olympic qualifying system.

The former consists of the World Tour, Challenge Series, Table Tennis X - a new time-based format introduced in 2016 - and Veterans Tour. It will also look at new playing formats and rule changes such as golden points to decide games at deuce.

The World Championships will form the core of the latter category, and includes para-table tennis and the global junior programme.

"It is a great game-changer for us with regard to professionalism and a brand new proposition for our stakeholders," ITTF president Thomas Weikert said yesterday at the Shangri-La Hotel.

"While we have significantly more prize money now, it is far from enough. There have been complaints from players, and they have to earn (more) money if they play on the World Tour."

Under yesterday's deal, the T2 Asia Pacific Table Tennis League (T2Apac) - introduced last year with new rules and owned by parent company Sportsmaster - will be incorporated into the ITTF stable. Its events will serve as a test bed in 2019 and 2020 for initiatives.

ITTF chief executive Steve Dainton said T2Apac will hold at least two test events next year, but other details - such as whether these competitions will offer world ranking points - are still being discussed.

Even without world ranking points - necessary to qualify for the 2020 Olympics - both Dainton and Weikert believe players will still commit to these T2Apac test events.

Weikert said: "The players already did last year and there were no world ranking or World Tour points offered.

"Now, we make the connection (between the World Tour and T2Apac) stronger, and the (T2Apac) prize money is strong enough."

Last year's inaugural T2Apac offered a purse of US$1.75 million.

Dainton also said the ITTF has been in talks with the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) to host the World Tour Grand Finals.

STTA president Ellen Lee was keen to host the prestigious competition but noted nothing was confirmed. She said: "Everything is still being discussed, because of the scale of the whole thing, not only in the management of it but also in the money involved.

"It is a question of looking for sponsors and how much money the relevant stakeholders can pump in."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 03, 2018, with the headline 'ITTF to revamp pro structure'. Print Edition | Subscribe