84-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency
Day 84, June 9 - The Origination of the World Table Tennis Championships
As most table tennis aficionados know, the first World Championships were staged in London in 1926. Of course, there is a story behind the inaugural event.
Here’s how it happened. At around the turn of the twentieth century, our sport went through about a 20-year period of stagnancy. As the game began to pick up again, the young Ivor Montagu had become Chairman of the Table Tennis Association in 1922. The events described below indicate why, within five years, it added “English” before the TTA.
Dr. Georg Lehmann of Germany had issued an “invitation to every centre in Europe – there were few enough – where he had heard of players.” Among those who had accepted to go to Berlin in January of 1926, they played matches and had many discussions about the game.
According to Montagu, “The result was that, as chief officers of the oldest association participating, Bill Pope and I then and there extended a provisional invitation to those present to come to London in December for a European Championships, subject to confirmation by our executive committee at home. Pope and I found a hall – the old Memorial Hall in Farringdon Street – where the event could be staged. We should have to build tiered seating, but even with hospitality offered to all teams we hoped to lose not too much money. The Committee was scared of the commitment, however, and their reluctance could only be overcome by my offering a guarantee.” (Quotes throughout this article are from Montagu’s autobiography, The Youngest Son, 1970.)
That guarantee was £ 300. It was the sum that Montagu’s grandfather had bequeathed to him. Samuel Montagu was the family patriarch. If you have not heard of him, you have certainly heard of his successor. He had founded a famously successful bank in 1853 under the name Samuel Montagu and Co., which has since been absorbed by HSBC.
Montagu’s story continues here. “I could not guarantee more for it was all that I had. The place was packed and we got out just inside the guarantee. Yet when I think of the championships as they are nowadays – we made them into ‘world’ titles retrospectively at the foundation meeting of the ‘International Table Tennis Federation’ held afterwards – with forty of more associations participating and the guarantees from host city or host country necessarily running into scores of thousands of pounds, I do not think we did badly. Sometimes we wasted money. To tempt teams to come from abroad we had offered a contribution to the traveling expenses of each. … On the other hand, mother graciously saved us money by presenting us with a cup, which we used for the men’s team championships of the world, the table tennis event equivalent of the Davis Cup, and my father took me once more to the bullion room at Samuel Montagu and Co., where I chose a fine fat-bellied design in old English style which has survived the intervening years and cost £ 35 secondhand.”
Montagu’s story of the inaugural World Table Tennis Championships is the foundation for the next several days of articles.
The key topic is the “growing pains” the ITTF is now facing.
As the number of national associations affiliated with the ITTF has now soared to 220, and participation levels have reached an unprecedented number of countries competing in the WTTC’s, the ITTF took action in Japan a month ago to set a maximum number of participating teams. The cap is now 96, versus the 118 Men’s teams who competed in Tokyo. The total number of Women’s teams competing this year was 95.
At the same time, burdens – both logistical and financial – of hosting the WTTC’s have created a barrier to entry, a distinct lack of competitive bidding for future WTTC’s.
Stay tuned to learn more about the 59 editions of the WTTC’s, the recent “cap of 96” issue, how the ITTF has dealt with it this year, and anticipated future steps and interventions.