Growing craze: ping pong

The growing popularity of ping pong knows no bounds – as proven by the legions of fans who turned out in support of the World Championships in Paris this month. Vision takes a look at various initiatives around the world that are helping to secure the sport's position in the mainstream

When Susan Sarandon opened SPiN Dubai earlier this month at The Pyramids in Wafi, a little Hollywood stardust was sprinkled on the idea of a table tennis “scene” in the UAE. With a nightclub feel, a centre court area which doubles up as a dancefloor, and a gold-framed table and net, SPiN Dubai certainly gives off the impression of being quirkily cool. But it isn’t operating in a vacuum.

In Paris, following the recent World Table Tennis Championships, a new initiative was launched by the UAE Table Tennis Team which aims to encourage far deeper participation in the sport than simply turning up at a smart venue for a fun night out.

Standing alongside world No 1 Xin Xu from the Chinese National Table Tennis Team, which is supporting the programme, UAE player Rashid Abdul Hamid unveiled details of the project, which aims to increase grassroots participation.

Ping Pong Dubai, a non-profit community initiative between UAE Table Tennis Association, Dubai Sports Council and Falcon and Associates (which facilitated Dubai’s sponsorship of the Chinese National Table Tennis Team) is without question a result of the huge increase in interest in the social aspect of the game. As UAE player Rashid Abdul Hamid says: “Table tennis has a rich tradition throughout the world for bringing people together and the great thing about the game is that anyone - regardless of age, ability and fitness – can enjoy playing."

The venture begins at Dubai Sports World next month, where Ping Pong Dubai will provide 12 free-to-use-tables at the indoor summer sports event taking place from June 21 to August 21 at the Dubai World Trade Centre. Anyone bitten by the bug – or indeed curious to understand why an Oscar-winning actress is so enamoured by the game – can come back and get expert guidance from UAE players and coaches, who will make regular appearances throughout the summer.

The curiosity factor cannot be underestimated. Ping pong has gradually seeped into popular culture, featuring in a major storyline in US comedy Entourage (filmed at Sarandon’s SPiN Hollywood) and an episode of Girls. Meanwhile, Mayor of London Boris Johnson is poised to take on Pippa Middleton, sister of the Duchess of Cambridge, in a society game of what he memorably calls “whiff-whaff”, and hip table tennis bars are opening all over the world.

Why is this happening now? There is an element of retro nostalgia to ping pong, but crucially the popularity is wrapped up in the notion that everyone can hit a ball across a table and enjoy playing the game. Table tennis doesn’t require much space, equipment or even huge natural athleticism. It’s just a good laugh to play – or watch – with a group of friends.

As Abdul Hamid says: “Ping Pong Dubai is a community initiative with a simple aim – to encourage people from all walks of life to pick up a bat and discover that table tennis is a fun and social way to be more active.”

And what could be simpler than that?

Find out more about Ping Pong Dubai on their Facebook page.