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Has the ITTF Got Your Number?

Is it time for a true World Ranking System?


Has the ITTF Got Your Number?

Get with the program...

ITTF logo courtesy www.ittf.com
The idea of comparing the standards of table tennis players from different countries is one topic that makes a regular appearance every couple of months on table tennis forums around the world, usually along with a lot of good natured debate about which country has the better players and more depth.

These conversations continue to pop up because while many countries use some form of rating or ranking system for their players, almost all of these systems are different from each other, making comparing the levels of players from different countries an educated guess at best, and a wild stab in the dark at worst.

And while the ITTF World Ranking List now goes down to 1650 or so for men, and 1250 for women, it's probably fair to say that the accuracy of these ratings drops off sharply after the 300 or so mark, where you start dealing with players who only compete in ITTF events perhaps once or twice a year. And of course, there are many players of a high standard who aren't listed in the world rankings at all, simply because the tournaments that they do compete in either weren't considered eligible for reporting purposes by the ITTF, or the tournament organizers didn't bother to submit the results. At any rate, a listing of the top 1650/1250 or so players is hardly a comprehensive list of all players around the world.

Now that it is the year 2011, perhaps the ITTF could turn a little of its attention and a fraction of its resources towards setting up a complete World Ranking List. Given today's technology and the size of the ITTF budget, surely this could be achievable?

Perhaps so, but what exactly would be required to make a true world ranking list? A few of the things I can think of are:

  • Simple to operate software for entering the results, and the ability to easily correct for mistakes that are detected later on.
  • The ability for the ITTF to confirm the accuracy of results entered.
  • The ability for any player to find his own results, so that he or she can double-check they are correct. This would add an extra layer of confidence in the system's accuracy.
  • A good ranking or rating algorithm would be required (Natch!).
  • Of course, there would need to be enough matches between lower ranked foreign players to make the results meaningful. This might be a bit inaccurate at first, but as more results were added to the system, no doubt the ratings would become closer to the real picture.
  • Tournament directors would need the ability to publish the full list of players, and it would be nice if event organizers could input the players competing in their tournament, and get a ranked list of those players.
  • Each player would need their own individual ID, and their relevant information including contact details could be stored. Actually, the more information collected, the better, as I'll explain later.
  • Finally, tournament directors would need to be willing to submit the results of their tournament. This would be easier if the ITTF could provide free tournament software to make running a competition easier, and which could allow the results to be uploaded to the ITTF database at the press of a button once the tournament was completed.
Looking at the above list, none of the above items seem insurmountable in terms of today's technology. Sites such as Ratings Central are already offering a fairly similar service for a pretty modest fee.

What is in it for the ITTF?

Ah, that is undoubtedly the question. It would require a significant amount of time, effort and money to get this set up and working. And what exactly would the ITTF get out of it? They've never seemed particularly interested in providing services for non-elite players, so why should they start now?

As far as that goes, I can offer three altruistic reasons for the ITTF to get behind a true world ranking list, and one capitalistic reason that might just get the project off the ground. Let's start with the feel good reasons first:

  • Table tennis would have a reasonably accurate list of players rankings from around the world, which in itself would be pretty impressive.
  • Tournament organizers would be able to place foreign players in roughly the correct events without too much trouble, which would be a nice bonus.
  • The ITTF would have the grateful thanks of many of us table tennis enthusiasts who might finally see an end to the incessant "my country's players are better than your country's players" threads on table tennis forums.
None of these would probably be of much interest to the ITTF, but there is another benefit that might make them sit up and take notice:
  • If player's contact details were collected, the ITTF would have a central database of players that could be contacted for advertising purposes. This has great money making potential, since this list could be made available to advertisers and table tennis manufacturers for a sizeable fee. The more information that was collected about players (such as what equipment a player uses), the more valuable the list would be - and as many Internet marketing people know, there is gold in a good targeted email list! Imagine what Butterfly would pay to get an email list of players that use Stiga rubbers, or vice versa!


I think the time is right for the ITTF to bring together players from around the world into one massive ranking list. Today's technology is up to the job, the software skills are there to write the necessary programs, and there is even the potential for the ITTF to make a tidy profit from the whole thing, if handled correctly. All that is left is the will to make it happen and manpower to get it done. I think the ITTF have the latter, but do they have the former?

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