My Apologies In Advance To The People’s Republic Of China

Amusing though it all is, I’m not a big one for call-that-a-sport!! responses to the Olympics. This is probably a legacy of my not thinking any sport was worthwhile until relatively recently, so I find myself entirely tolerant of multiple sailing classes, synchro diving, and even the dressage. Unfortunately, and I’m not proud of this, there is one sport where I draw the line.

I cannot take table-tennis seriously.

It’s a fiercely-fought discipline, an entire continent lives for it, it requires intense concentration and dedication, the paddles are almost fused to the top players’ nervous system, the flash and deterity of the rall- no, hold on, it’s table-tennis. Look at it! Look at the ridiculous tiny table and the plastic ball and the way that EVEN AT OLYMPIC LEVEL the bats have frayed bits at the edges. Your eyes scour the table-tennis venue looking for an out-of-order drinks machine and a poster asking for help with the Amateur Dramatics.

This isn’t some kind of ha-ha-anyone-can-do-it hubris either, a blind five year old could have me at ping-pong. I just don’t believe in it. The athletes themselves do a pretty good job of almost persuading me, the way their weirdly contorted hobbling twisting serves look nothing like the table-tennis of youth clubs and camping holiday games rooms. But then the commentator goes and says something like “she has trained for eleven years in the world’s most gruelling table tennis academy” and all the good work is undone.