In the Second World War, a large number of men, women, and civilians were injured and thus caused physical disabilities. After the war, the concept of physical education for physically disabled people was introduced and implemented.
People began to study and tried to find new ways to minimize the consequences of the inconvenience of physical disabilities. Such research revisits sports and offers new and enormous possibilities for sports to become one of the ways to treat and rehabilitate people with disabilities.
Table tennis has been a Paralympic sport since the first Paralympic Games in Rome in 1960. However, athletes with an intellectual disability were included for the first time during the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney, Australia.
Table tennis is played in over 50 IPC countries and in terms of the number of participating athletes is the 4th largest Paralympic Games sport behind athletics, swimming, and powerlifting. Table tennis competitions take two forms at the Paralympic Games: standing and wheelchair events (sitting). Individual and team men’s and women’s events are included in the program.
Athletes with a physical disability and athletes with an intellectual disability are eligible to compete in table tennis. Competitors with a physical disability can include athletes with upper and lower limb paralysis; athletes with cerebral palsy or who are amputees; and athletes with other physical disabilities including spina bifida, polio, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, etc.
Athletes with physical disabilities compete together in classes 1 through 10 according to their functional ability. For example, a wheelchair athlete with cerebral palsy could compete in the same class as an athlete who is spinal paralyzed or who is a double above knee amputee. All athletes with an intellectual disability regardless of the degree of disability compete together in class 11.
Table tennis is played according to the rules of the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF). Sitting Play: Minor modifications to the rules are made for sitting players (wheelchair users).
These modifications relate to “the service”, touching the playing surface with the free hand, the playing area, and the wheelchair. Rule modifications include the following:
• Players are permitted to call a “let” if in the service of the ball it leaves the table by either of the sidelines (on one or more bounces), comes to rest on the receiver’s side of the playing service or upon bouncing on the receiver’s side of the playing service the ball returns in the direction of the net.
• When the ball is in play the player may use the playing surface to restore balance but only after a shot has been played.
• Wheelchairs must have at least 2 large and one small wheel. Feet are not permitted to touch the floor at any time during play.
• In team and individual events, no part of the athlete’s body may be strapped to the wheelchair as this could improve balance (this is permitted in open competition).
However, if strapping or binding is required for medical reasons then it is permitted. • The playing area may be reduced, but shall not be less than 8 meters long and 7 meters wide. The table shall allow access for wheelchairs without obstructing the player’s legs. Standing Play: There are no modifications to the ITTF rules for standing players.
There are a total of 11 classifications in table tennis.
Classes 1 – 5 are assigned to competitors who must sit in a wheelchair while competing.
Classes 6 – 10 are assigned to competitors who stand to compete and class 11 is for all athletes with an intellectual disability. Table tennis utilizes a functional classification system that allows athletes with different disabilities (i.e., spinal paralyzed versus cerebral palsy) to compete together.
Classifiers evaluate the athletes’ ability to perform required movements and those athletes who have the same abilities are grouped together in the same classification regardless of disability. During the classification process, each athlete is examined by a classification team that test the athlete’s ability to perform certain movements.
Each movement has a point value and the inability of an athlete to perform these movements due to their disability results in a loss of points.
For example, If elbow flexion has a point value of 5, an athlete who has full flexion is given a full five (5) points. An athlete who has limited flexion may be given three (3) points and an athlete with no elbow flexion may receive zero (0) points.
At the conclusion of the classification process, the points for each movement are totaled and the athlete is assigned classification or class (1 through 10) based on their total number of points.
The assigned classification reflects the degree of disability (minor versus severe). Classes 1 through 10 are progressive with class 1 athletes being more severely disabled than class 10 athletes. All athletes with an intellectual disability regardless of the degree of disability compete together in class 11.
For Paralympic, the dimensions of the table tennis table and net are exactly the same as those used at the Olympic Games. The only difference is the table that used for wheelchair players where the legs of the table are fixed at least 40cm inside the end line. The table legs are built like this is with the purpose to prevent players from hitting the table when they are getting close to the table.
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The Paralympic table tennis project has progressed very well with great development. There are more than 2,300 athletes participated in the 12th Paralympic Games. At the Athens Paralympic Games, 254 athletes from 41 countries and regions participated in the Paralympic Table Tennis Tournament.
Throughout the competition, there were 28 classifications in different levels of wheelchairs and standing. The Paralympic delegations from 21 countries and regions around the world have won the medals.
The number of medals in the country shows the influence of table tennis. The table tennis competition of this Paralympic Games also attracted many royal people to watch the game.
For example, the Queen of Serbia and the Queen Victoria of Sweden, the Princess of Sofia and Princess Aina of Spain, the Princess of Norway, Princess Louise, the Crown Prince of Belgium, and the Prince of Jordan. They all have been presented themselves in the Paralympic Games.
In the last two days of the competition, the President of the International Table Tennis Federation, Sarah, came to the stadium and participated in the award ceremony to show his support for the Paralympics.
Read also: Table Tennis Rules For Blind Players