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How to Stop Your Table Tennis Opponent From Breaking the Rules

I Fought the Law and the Law Won

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How to Stop Your Table Tennis Opponent From Breaking the Rules
Feng Li/Staff/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
What do you do? You are playing a table tennis match and your opponent clearly breaks one of the rules. What should you do about it?

Most commonly, he is probably violating one of the many service rules, such as hiding the ball, throwing it up with spin, or throwing it backwards to get extra spin instead of near vertically upwards. But there are a lot of other rules that he might be breaking, such as:

  • Towelling off at times other than every 6 points to get a rest or disrupt play.
  • Getting coaching from the sidelines during a game.
  • Leaving the court without permission.
  • Changing his bat when it is not damaged.
  • Using a bat with illegal rubbers, or rubbers that are not red on one side and black on the other.
  • Wearing clothing that matches the color of the ball.
  • Taking too long during time-outs.
  • Taking too long between rallies.
  • Serving when you are not ready, or waiting to serve for a long time in hopes of catching you off guard.
Facing an opponent who is bending or outright breaking the rules is a problem that all table tennis players must face sooner or later. The question is how to handle the situation to give yourself the best chance of stopping the illegal behavior, and not offending your opponent in the process (if at all possible).

Stopping an Opponent from Breaking the Rules - the Easy Way

If you have an umpire and referee present, things are much easier. Calmly make your point to the umpire about the illegal behavior, and let the umpire take the appropriate action. If the umpire disagrees with you, or agrees but is refusing to act, you can make an appeal to the referee (according to ITTF Laws 3.03.03.01-07, and Regulation 4.6.1 of the ITTF Handbook for Match Officials), provided it is a question of rules interpretation (such as is a rubber illegal, is a player allowed to hide the ball when serving, can a player change his racket during a match?) and not a question of fact (did the ball hit the edge, was a player's toss 16cm high or not, is the player actually hiding the ball when serving or not?).

Stopping an Opponent from Breaking the Rules - the Hard Way

When you don't have an umpire immediately available (as is often the case in USA tournaments), then things get a bit trickier. Here's the process which I suggest you follow.
  1. Decide whether the infringement is going to pose a problem to you. Err on the side of caution in this regard. For example, if your opponent is using a bat with an illegal rubber, but the rubber does not bother you during the warmup, then you might decide not to worry about it. However, if your opponent serves the ball without throwing it up on his first serve, you might want to say something then and there. Don't wait until the end of the match to complain about his serve - he will probably be upset that you didn't say something earlier. Of course, if the score is 9-all in the final game, and your opponent pulls out a new and completely illegal serve, you had better say something right away!

  2. Tactfully mention the problem and what action you would like your opponent to take. Do your best to remain calm. A polite statement such as "I don't think you quite managed to throw the ball up the full 16cm in that last serve. Can we play a let?" is much more likely to get your opponent's cooperation and keep things civil than yelling "Stop cheating and throw the $*#% ball up!".

    It also is a great help to have a current ITTF rule book on hand, so you can go straight to the rules in black and white instead of relying on memory. Of course, this still won't help in situations where your opponent feels he is complying with the rules, and you disagree.

  3. If your opponent disagrees with you, or continues in his illegal behaviour, then you need to escalate the matter if possible. If you are playing a competition or tournament, you should go to the referee or Tournament Director and explain the situation, and request an umpire for the remainder of your match.

    If you are playing in a situation where you can't report the matter to a higher power, then you have a problem that you must resolve yourself. Possible options include:

    • Asking a third party who is acceptable to you and your opponent to umpire the rest of the match. This is probably the best solution if you and your opponent can agree on an umpire.
    • Allowing your opponent to get away with his behavior, and continuing the match without further complaint. This may be acceptable if you are playing in a club or social setting, where the match does not count for anything other than bragging rights. It also makes you the bigger person, and avoids offending your opponent. The downside is that you may lose some matches that you deserve to win, and you can expect your opponent to continue such behavior in the future.
    • Allowing your opponent to get away with his behavior, but under protest. Make it clear to your opponent that you still believe his actions are illegal, but you will not make an issue of them for the remainder of the match. If you expect to play this opponent again in the future, it may not be a bad idea to round up a few mutual friends, explain the rules as you see them, let your opponent have his say, and then come to an understanding. Even better would be to find an impartial qualified umpire and get his ruling on the subject.
    • If no understanding can be reached, then you can either avoid playing your opponent in the future, or play him without complaint. Constant complaining will make you look whiny and a poor sport.
    • Some players would advocate simply calling your opponent on his illegal behavior every time he infringes (such as calling a fault when he hides the ball from you during serving). This can work on occasion (usually when your opponent secretly knows he is breaking the rules, but is hoping to get away with it, and you can embarrass him sufficiently), but it is also possible that you will antagonize your opponent and end up in a fight over the matter - especially if your opponent also truly believes he is in the right, or if you are simply playing an opponent who intends to cheat regardless of the consequences. It's often hard to know which type of opponent you have until it is too late!

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