Coach Corner

Health Concerns ITTF Artcle 7/3/06 The increasing use of technology over the years has meant that sport has become faster; in sports where a ball is used the spherical object travels quicker, table tennis is no exception. Blades and racket coverings that enable to a player to hit the ball faster, impart more spin have been constantly developed and, of course, for over two decades players have used `speed glue’ to enhance the speed that can be imparted on a table tennis table.

Regulations have been invoked over the years in an effort to force manufacturers to make `safe glues’ but is such a product possible? In the opinion of the highly respected Dr. Jean-François Kahn, Chairman of the ITTF Sports Science Committee, such a product does not exist.

Dr. Jean-François Kahn explains:
As a doctor and as a member of different national and international sport bodies (French TTA, ETTU, ITTF) I feel responsible for the health of our players and of other people concerned with table tennis, and I am convinced that the situation existing for over fifteen years is not the best one. The decision taken in the early nineties to limit the concentration of some organic solvents (aromatic and chlorinated solvents) is just half a good one since the possibility remains for the players and coaches to make themselves some mixtures with different so called “more or less harmful” glues and solvents. Today, despite a great number of commercial advertisements, there is not a single “clean” glue on the market.

What does “more or less harmful” mean? From a medical point of view, it means that health damages are still possible, which is unacceptable. Table tennis is a sport played by millions of people around the world, in two hundred national associations and it has got a strong and wonderful image. If we want to keep this beautiful image, the materials and substances used to play it must be totally harmless and from an ethical point of view all players must fight with the same kinds of weapons.

When looking at the current ITTF approved list, then the first ambiguity appears: if the glues containing aromatic solvents are banned, it is not understandable why those containing heptane or cyclohexane (among others) are authorized since heptane and cyclohexane have a well known irritating effect on the skin, without speaking of their effects on the lungs and the central nervous system; moreover they are highly flammable. It is clear that there are many other ambiguities about the “approved glues” due to their so called “more or less harmful” effects.

If we want to maintain and even to improve the good image of our sport, the only reasonable and efficient solution consists in banning all kinds of volatile organic compounds from the glues, and also all other substances which can be sprayed directly on the rubbers to clean them or to increase their friction properties. In a more general way, such a policy is in complete accordance with the current development of an ecologic environment, and more specifically is in accordance with the article 21 of the Olympic Charter.

Considering that we have a high position in table tennis, my opinion is that we can't accept that players continue to be exposed even to the smallest danger when there is a solution to avoid it. Therefore the decision taken by the ITTF BOD in 2004 to totally ban the use of any glues containing volatile organic solvents as from 1 September 2007 is the right one.