International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) chief Steve Dainton has suggested the sport’s annual individual world championships be scrapped, with champions instead decided by the winners of the new “Grand Smash” mega tournaments.
The world championships were held for the first time in 1926 and individual titles have been decided every year since the team events were hived off into a separate tournament in 2003. In a wide-ranging open letter, largely addressing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the sport, Dainton suggested keeping the team championships and Olympic tournaments as they were but doing away with the individuals.
“The idea is simply that … we plan to eventually have three to four ‘Grand Smashes’ per year,” he wrote. “These events will be equal to or larger than a world individual championships (so) we would be overstretching and confusing the calendar and market if we also have a world individual championships.
“The three to four major events held on the international stage throughout each year will reach a larger audience and will perform much better than once every two years. “From these events, we would also be able to define an individual world champion.”
When WTT was launched, it said it intended to put on up to four Grand Smashes per year, with each running for 10 days and featuring 64-player men’s and women’s fields. The organisation wants to host the events at purpose-built table tennis venues and the prize pot could be $3 million (£2.3 million/€2.7 million). It would “overstretching and confusing” the calendar to run the World Championships alongside these events, Dainton fears.
The “Grand Smash” tournaments, with top class fields playing for purses of up to $3 million at dedicated venues, are part of the World Table Tennis initiative to make the sport more commercially successful. Dainton said the pause to sport caused by the coronavirus crisis was an opportunity to “reflect and work on all the areas that we know have been underperforming, needed to change and adapt but were not tackled because priorities lay elsewhere”.
Table tennis, as with all professional sports, has taken a big hit financially from the COVID-19 shutdown and despite ITTF staff agreeing to salary cuts Dainton said more savings would be needed to keep the sport going.
“Despite some tough sacrifices needed, we will ensure that the ITTF survives this difficult period,” he added. The Australian said that with the Tokyo Olympics now moved back to 2021 and the postponement of a raft of tournaments, it would probably be a couple of years before everything on the table tennis circuit settled down again.
“At this stage, we expect that only by 2022 will we see some normality return to our calendars,” he wrote.
The team event was originally scheduled for March, with it then hoped the tournament could be played June. Dainton does not expect the calendar to return to normal until at least 2022 – especially with the Olympic and Paralympic Games needing to be factored into 2021’s planning.