What is the Difference Between Ping Pong and Table Tennis?

Originally, ping pong and table tennis were two names for the same sport. A trademark since 1901, ‘ping pong’ was registered by John Jaques & Son for their version of table tennis.

American sports equipment company, Escalade Sports, acquired the trademark in the 1970s. That means that, officially, referring to table tennis as ping pong is a breach unless you have received permission.

It would also not technically be true, either, as table tennis and ping pong do have slightly different rules and equipment. Though very closely related, they are not the same.

Ping Pong vs Table Tennis Rules

Table tennis is an Olympic sport played with paddles usually made from laminated wood covered with rubber, which lends itself to quick rallies and incredible swerve shots. In the ping pong variant of the game, the paddle is covered in sandpaper which makes the speed of play considerably slower than table tennis.

Within a few days of each other in December 1901 was the formation of both the Ping Pong Association and Table Tennis Association. The two bodies merged in 1903, due to legal difficulties surrounding the ping pong name owing to the trademark.

In the modern-day, the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) is the sport’s governing body and has been since it was founded in 1926. The ITTF holds its world championship every year, alternating between being a team and individual event from year to year.

Since 2011, the World Championship of Ping Pong has been an annual event (though not held since January 2020 due to the pandemic) that is not recognised by the ITTF. The tournament, which has attracted table tennis players to play ping pong, has been organised by veteran promoter Barry Hearn and his Matchroom Sports promotion.

In the ITTF World Championship, players win a game by scoring 11 points or, if the scores are tied at 10-10, must win by two clear points; singles matches are a best-of-seven. The World Championship of Ping Pong has a slightly different system, with games played to 15 points, rather than 11, with no requirement to win by at least two points (15-14 would be a winning score). Matches are the best of three sets apart from the semi-finals and final, which are the best of five.

“It’s Not Really My Sport”

Andrew Baggaley is the most successful player in the World Championship of Ping Pong’s history, winning on four occasions. Despite that, he says that he isn’t a ping pong player as he specialises in table tennis.

Following his first title win back in 2015, Baggaley was quoted as saying by BBC Sport: “I practiced for a month, but it’s not really my sport.”

He added: “I’m going to use this now to lift my table tennis career. I’ve won something that isn’t even my sport, so that’s a massive confidence booster…in fact whenever I play ping pong, my backhand improves in table tennis.”

Is Ping Pong the Same as Table Tennis?

While the two names are often interchangeable, ping pong is not the same as table tennis as it is a different sport (though with more similarities than differences). The name ping pong is a registered trademark and, thus, you would not be able to use the name as you would table tennis.

Table tennis is by far the more common version of the game, being an Olympic sport, played by over 850 million worldwide. It is hugely popular in China, with Chinese players dominating the sport since the 1960s – only three non-Chinese players have won Olympic gold medals since its introduction to the games in 1988.

In conclusion, the easiest way to tell the difference is if your paddle has rubber, you are playing table tennis and, if it has sandpaper, it is ping pong.

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