Last Updated on August 12, 2022 by Sorin Petroj
Disabled athletes can play competitive table tennis too, thanks to para table tennis. A parasport following rules set by the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF,) para table tennis follows many of the same rules – ITTF rules – such as those involving match process, points scoring and equipment–as their able-bodied counterparts.
Para table tennis has several classifications allowing for disabled people with all different levels of ability to participate. It’s now practiced in over 100 countries and has become the third largest Paralympic sport by way of numbers of players. Like any other sport or parasport, it also has its major tournaments, teams, players and fascinating statistics.
To be eligible for para table tennis, you must have one of the following impairment types:
- Impaired muscle power
- Impaired passive range of movement
- Intellectual impairment
- Leg length difference
- Limb deficiency
- Short stature
Types of Para Table Tennis
There are 11 classes of para table tennis: TT1-TT5 for players in wheelchairs; TT6-TT10 for players with disabilities that permit them to stand and play; TT11 for players with intellectual impairments.
Where players in wheelchairs and players with disabilities fall within the possible range of classes depends on their ability to balance while playing and, in the case of wheelchair classes, hand function. The lower a player’s class number within his or her class type, the greater the impairment impacts his or her ability to play.
Here are the distinctions between the para table tennis classes in finer detail.
- Class 1 – No balance sitting, and function is severely reduced in the playing arm
- Class 2 – No balance sitting, and function is reduced in the playing arm
- Class 3 – No balance sitting, though there may be activity in the upper portion of the trunk, though the non-playing arm can stabilize it, and arms function normally with some slight possible motor loss in the playing hand that doesn’t significantly affect play
- Class 4 – Balance sitting, though less than ideal due to a lack of pelvic stabilization or anchorage
- Class 5 – Trunk muscles function normally
- Class 6 – Arms and legs severely impaired
- Class 7 – Legs impaired very severely or playing arm moderately-to-severely impaired or legs and playing arm both impaired but less severe than Class 6
- Class 8 – Legs or playing arm moderately impaired or moderate hemiplegia, cerebral palsy or diplegia with playing arm
- Class 9 – Legs or playing arm mildly impaired or non-playing arm severely impaired or mild cerebral palsy with monoplegia or hemiparesis
- Class 10 – Legs or playing arm very mildly impaired or non-playing arm severely to moderately impaired or trunk moderately impaired
Para Table Tennis Equipment Stats
The ITTF sets certain parameters governing fair play of the sport.
- Tables are 9′ long (2.74m), 5′ wide (1.52m) and 2.5′ high (76cm.)
- The net is 6″ high (15.25cm.)
- The table construction should contain no obstacle that could keep a player in a wheelchair from being able to fully access the table’s playing surface or avoid threat of injury.
- The ball used in the game is 40mm in diameter and weighs 2.7g.
- Players use a laminated wooden paddle or “racket” with ITTF-approved rubber covering each side.
Para Table Tennis Tournaments Across the World
There are five sanctioned international para table tennis tournaments. Every year, one of the first four tournaments takes place with the cycle repeating in the same order every four years, as follows:
- Summer Paralympics Games – Sanctioned by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC)
- Regional Championships (Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia, Oceania) – Sanctioned by the ITTF Para Table Tennis Division and various continental associations
- World Para Table Tennis Championships – ITTF-sanctioned
- Regional Championships
- International Tournament (held annually in a different host city each time)
Para Table Tennis Major Winners
After his YouTube video went viral, Ibrahim Hamadtou of Egypt became one of the most widely known para table tennis players. A Class 6 champion who holds the racket in his mouth, he won silver medals in the 2011 and 2013 African Para Table Tennis Championships.
Natalia Partyka is a four-time Olympian in Class 10 representing Poland. Lacking a right hand and forearm, she competes in events for both able-bodied and disabled athletes. She reached the top 32 in the women’s table tennis event at the 2012 London Olympics.
The top ranked para table tennis athletes as of July 2022 are:
- Men’s wheelchair senior singles – Feng Panfeng (Class 3) of China
- Women’s wheelchair senior singles – Bian Zhang(Class 5) of China
- Men’s standing senior singles – Patryk Chojnowski (Class 10) of Poland
- Women’s standing senior singles – Natalia Partyka (Class 10) of Poland
- Men’s wheelchair senior doubles – Mitar PaliKuca (Class 5) of Serbia
- Women’s wheelchair senior doubles – Bian Zhang(Class 5) of China
- Men’s standing senior doubles – Mateo Boheas (Class 10) of France
- Women’s standing senior doubles – Natalia Partyka (Class 10) of Poland
- Men’s wheelchair senior mixed doubles – Abdullah Ozturk (Class 4) of Turkey
- Women’s wheelchair senior mixed doubles – Yoon Jiyu (Class 3) of Korea
- Men’s standing senior mixed doubles – Dian David Mickael Jacobs (Class 10) of Indonesia
- Women’s standing senior mixed doubles – Tian Shiau Wen (Class 10) of Taipei
Table Tennis in Film
Table tennis in general and para table tennis in particular have made their way onto the big screen. While the few films devoted to para table tennis–”Para PingPong × Art Project” (Japan); “The Most Challenging Pingpong Table” (Japan); “Get Inspired” (UK); “Dimas Game” (Canada)– are not yet available for streaming on any of the top streaming services, there are many films about or depicting table tennis:
- “Forrest Gump” (1994) – fuboTV, Netflix, Paramount Plus, Vudu
- “Balls of Fury” (2007) – DIRECTV STREAM, Starz on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV
- “Ping Pong Playa” (2007) – Tubi TV, Plex, Freeview Amazon Channel
- “As One” (2012) – KoreaOnDemand
- “Ping Pong” (2012) – The Roku Channel, Tubi TV, Kanopy, Fandor, Pluto TV
- “Top Spin” (2014) – DIRECTV STREAM, Amazon Prime Video, Paramount Plus, Epix on Amazon Prime Video, Kanopy
Fun Facts About Para Table Tennis
The first Paralympic Games to include table tennis was in 1960 in Rome, Italy–28 years prior to para table tennis being included in the Olympic Games. This was for players in wheelchairs only until the Toronto Paralympics in 1976 when the first competitions for standing players were launched. The first Para Table Tennis World Championships took place in 1990 in Assen, Netherlands.
Since 1960, athletes with disabilities have been able to compete professionally representing their country in internationally sanctioned para table tennis competitions. Like many sports, in addition to its variety of players, teams and tournaments, para table tennis also boasts many devoted fans around the world.