Uncovering China’s agenda for Ping-Pong

Table Tennis is not for the faint-hearted, it is a sport of endurance, stamina and utter focus.

Sports presents itself in all forms and sizes, as an individual of the Western World I was not always aware of the extent of ping-pong. In Australia, I associate ping-pong with the legendary game of Beer Pong and a casual muck around with friends. In China, Table Tennis is the countries biggest sport. China is ranked number 1 in the world and holds the three top seats in the Men’s and Women’s leagues. Of China’s population, it is estimated that there are around 10 million citizens who regularly play the game. During the 2008 Bejing Olympic Games, a solid 300 million people of China tuned in to watch the mega show-down between China’s Table Tennis athletes Ma Lin vs. Wang Hao.

Autoethnography is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyse (graphy) personal experience (auto) in order to understand cultural experience (ethno). As part of autoethnography, researchers are challenged to participate in their own self-evaluation, this stems from the concept of epiphanies. Epiphanies are remembered moments percieved to have significantly impacted the trajectory of a person’s life. Epiphanies require a level of self-awareness, they reveal the ways and ‘whys’ a person reacts to particular circumstances or situations.

My first step of investigation for my digital artifact was to sit down and watch a clip of the best rallies in table tennis history. My mind was blown by the skill and endurance these athletes have. My next aim was to sit and attempt to watch a full game to get the feel. My past is grounded in tennis, as a former Australian athlete I thought to myself, it really is in essence tennis but on a way smaller level. So I sat down and had a go, after 30 minutes past it was safe to say I was bored. Some people say its because Youtube provided me with an old and ordinary game, but I also think it’s because I had no clue what was going on…..

I researched the rules and training behind the sport and spread my wings to watch a variety of different games at various levels and tutorials. What I found interesting was that undoubtedly each tournament was filled with spectators; views on YouTube videos were consistently more than 400,000+. Interestingly an epiphany popped into my mind, “what makes sport so culturally valuable in society?” “Why do certain countries choose to invest in particular sports?” To narrow down my scope, I researched the history behind the emergence of table tennis in China, why it is a cultural value and to further my own understanding of the game in order to try and value it the same as the Chinese people do.

To validate my epiphanies against Ellis theory of autoethnography – Ethnography is, the study of a culture’s relational practices, common values and beliefs and shared experiences for the purpose of helping insiders and outsiders better understand culture.

As previously stated in my other blog post, China was first introduced to Table Tennis by its former leader Mao Zedong. The sport swiftly became a cultural value of the country, the sport was ‘bizarrely‘ popular amongst the Communist Party of China’s military force during the 1930s. Not long after do we see China using Ping-Pong as a source of diplomacy, this is through the games introduction to the Olympic Games and also communication with other countries.

I found that a brief look into the its history in China and the values that extend past the social norm of sport generate yet another element for my digital artefact. In order to fulfil the criteria of autoethnography, my aim will be to reveal the history of ping-pong in China and explore its globalisation and diplomacy. It will not only allow me to understand the value the country holds for the sport, but also allow me to uncover the hidden agenda government’s hold for sport.

A sport for every nation.

The world of sport is much larger than what society understand. Sport provides not only a source of health and fitness, rather sport has created unity in communities, it has broadened inter-cultural communication and brought into effect the realities of globalisation. Sport can be named as a ‘peacetime’ event, occasions such as the Olympic Games have bought peace amongst countries in the modern day. Government’s are utilising sport as a platform for global attention and political activity.

I have always had a profound interest in sports, as a former athlete and as a fan and spectator. I have been particularly interested in what sports are largely followed in selected countries, for example, in Australia, our biggest and most followed sports are NRL, AFL and Cricket. Across each sports, fans, coverage and the match itself differs.

For the upcoming research project, I endeavour to take a focus on China’s value of sport with a particular focus on Table Tennis, also known as Ping Pong.

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To get the ball rolling, I turned to trust Google to help me understand a little more about the sport. Little did I know that my views of Ping Pong have been completely wrong.

The game of table tennis actually began during the 1880s in England, as a lawn tennis player adapted their game to play indoors during the winter. It has had its humble beginnings grounded as a ‘parlour game‘, for anyone who had the access to a table, paddle and a ball. The name ‘Ping-Pong’ followed shortly after, it was coined by the English firm J. Jaques and Son at the end of the 1800s, and later trademarked in the US by Parker Brothers, the board game company. The game expanded and caught wind during 1901, the earliest dates of tournaments show that there were more than 300 participants. In 1922 the first Ping-Pong Association was formed and renamed The Table Tennis Association.

Mind-blown? Me too.

But when was ping-pong introduce into China?

China has been infatuated with table tennis since the 1950s, it was during this time Chairman Mao declared it as the national sport. The communist leader thought it was a logical decision, a sport that can be played at a cheap expense and was a sport that was not as popular in the West. Today, China holds the top three ranking in the Men and Women’s League as well as the top spot in the world!

Fun Facts:

  • China is ruthless in their national team selection
  • Chinese players train for a minimum of 7 hours a day
  • Players work with specialised practice partners, even sometimes two against one
  • Chinese teams have the most extensive and strategic analysis about competitors and are pioneers for new techniques

For this digital artefact, I want to immerse myself in the culture of Ping-Pong. I endeavour to watch, research and write about the ins and outs of the sport.

I am a self-proclaimed sports fanatic (sports journalist is the ultimate goal), but I have very limited knowledge to play with. With the help of autoethnography, my digital artefact will be a reflection of my understandings, conclusions, opinions and epiphanies concerning ping-pong and its stance throughout the Chinese Culture.

I have chosen to present my artefact in written form, a mixture of reviews, analysis, cultural understandings and a sports report. I believe this is an effective way to convey my findings, as well as allow my brain explosion to flow and explore a range of different avenues ping-pong influences and flows amongst.

First stop! Watching re-runs of the Table Tennis games during the 2018 Asian Games.

Let the games begin!

The Cyborg Athlete

As previously stated, wearable technology is revolutionising the sporting industry. However, it seems the inclusion of technology is beginning to raise anxieties, questioning whether such applications are a viable resource in sports.

 

A cyborg is defined as “an integrated man-machine” and “a person whose physical tolerances or capabilities have been extended beyond normal human limitations by a machine or other external agency that modifies the body’s functioning”. With the rapid advancements and implantation of science and technology are changing the human species and our activities.

Sport can no longer remain the same, the integration of wearable technology such as tracking devices, prosthetic limbs, smart watches etc. are the key innovations that are leading sporting events to be called ‘transhumanist competition‘ – competition beyond human means.

The application of technology in sports has raised anxieties and concerns.

 

Where and why do we draw the line for artificial enhancements?

A survey of eighty people was conducted in order to gather public opinion on the matter of the ‘cyborg athlete’. When asked the “does the inclusion of technology in sport bother you”, 85% of responders voted yes with responses stating, “they are no longer human”, “it’s cheating if they don’t need the technology”. One response, in particular, suggested, “Sports is a showcase of how well humans perform. A technological enhancement takes away the human factor in the game”. Do you agree with this? Does technology remove the human factor in sports?

Researcher F. Lopez agrees to say, “The cyborg threatens deep-seated convictions about both sports and ourselves”. Lopez aligns his theory with Bioethicist, Michael Sandel, who suggests the example of the bionic baseball players. Sandel argues his case against the cyborgised baseball players, stating that the use of the bionic arm eliminates the human elements of sport, “the descent of sport into the spectacle is not unique to the age of genetic engineering. But it illustrates how performance-enhancing technologies, genetic or otherwise, can erode the part of the athletic and artistic performance that celebrates natural talents and gifts” (Sandel, 2009). Despite reasoning behind the application of wearable technology, researchers pinpoint one of its ethical implications, “it is removing the human element”.

The following Youtube clip produced by Professor Steve Haake further explores this point.

Sport thrives on the application of human performance, take three athletes and examine their abilities. Would you be able to pinpoint the exact similarities across these individuals? Take a moment to reflect on what they are best known for.
Researcher Andy Miah explains, “sport is described as existing on a continuum of technological change, where technology becomes increasingly necessary as it becomes more apparent that the human body cannot sustain limitless, unaided enhancement”.

The gradual introduction of wearable technology has fastened the human performance factor, for many a simple flyknit technology and the application of are blades for runners can allow them to glide, the Fastskin swimsuit replicates similar functions. Miah continues to say; “the concept of performance enhancement has had strong associations with elite competition, where the importance of competition and winning is paramount”.

The importance of competition and winning will continue to be paramount is sports, however, much like previous doping scandals can the inclusion of wearable technology begin to replicate doping habits?

We can see that the application of technology may never fade as a result of the prevalent nature of cyberculture. Miah suggests, “sport will seek to legitimise performance-enhancing technologies that will allow the continued surpassing of human limits in sport and bring about a new kind of sport that has a different regard for distinctions between legitimate and illegitimate means of enhancement”.

Like Prof. Steve Haake suggests, has cheating now become unclear?

A prevalent example of this is Speedo’s 2000 invention of the Fastskin Swimsuit, that that the swimming world up in hands. The suit was a full body suit; the material was modelled to resemble sharkskin, which can help enhance the performance of the athlete and reduce drag. A study on the suit revealed that it provides a 3% advantage to the athlete, which caused officials to question the legitimacy of the device in correlation with the rules. The governing body FINA assessed the situation and interpreted their rules to accept the suit. Shortly after they introduced a new rule stating “no swimmer is permitted to use or wear any device that may aid speed, buoyancy, or endurance during a competition”.1-2.jpg

Eight years later, at the 2008 Summer Olympics, swimmers were seen wearing Speedo’s full-body polyurethane LZR Racer suits which shattered previous world records. The suit was developed in Aqualab in Nottingham England, designed to tighten the swimmer’s physique through compression. Suits were then designed to trap air and increase buoyancy followed and FINA banned them in correlation with their new instated rule as stated above.

Two similar situations, eight-years apart and two different outcomes. As Miah has stated sport will seek to bring about a ‘new kind of sport’ and seek to legitimise and illegitimate means of enhancement. The evaluations and outcomes of these situations show that governing bodies are altering regulations in order to become inclusive of such technologies. With the constant alteration of these regulations, will cheating and enhancement ever be clear? Or will brands like Speedo’s continue to alter their technologies to follow regulation and still enhance performance?

This is an evident example of the blur of cyborg athletes and artificial enhancement.

In another means of investigation, enhancements such as prosthetics have also come under investigation. Athletes who use prosthetics, skeletons etc. have also been grouped under the term of cyborgs. But from my own investigation, many are unaware of the two types of cyborg athletes.

In 2016, Zurich Switzerland, the world’s first cyborg Olympics showed the world a “new science-fiction version of sports”. The Cybathlon, people with disabilities used robotic technology to turn themselves into cyborg athletes. These Olympics celebrated the combined power of muscle and machine, those called ‘pilots’ were individuals missing limbs or some form of paralysis, and on their own, they could never have moved. With the combination of controlling technologies, these individual’s were able to navigate through races using powered prosthetics, while others raced in robotic exoskeletons.

The Cybathlon gave these people the opportunity to compete, however, it also demonstrated that technology is yet to fully evolve. In some cases the controlling of these technologies was so difficult, some exoskeletons were unable to reach the starting line.

Although, competition organises “felt [it was] a true complement to the traditional Olympics and the Paralympics, organiser Riener has said the next Cybathlon could occur in 2020”.

So, how is this any different to other wearable technologies?

Like the Paralympics, the Cybathlon is an event that unities athlete’s who are not fully able, and with the help of these technologies, it gives them the opportunity to walk and compete.

If we were to transcend into an in-depth study and evaluate the fully abled athletes who are using these wearable technologies for performance enhancement, should we link the Cybathlon to this issue? And would it help us establish the line between aided performance enhancement and artificial enhancement? In my opinion, no.

However, to find where to draw the line for artificial enhancement in the Olympics, there is a reliance placed upon governing bodies. Management should be intact, and analysis of what technologies these athletes are using in the games and in prior training should be examined. Any further prevention of technologies in sport is no longer an option. The infatuation with cybernetics and technology has clearly become a detriment throughout the sporting world.

Sport is a celebration of pure human performance. I feel that we should not forget or abandon this.

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NBNco Price Changes

The company behind the nations broadband network is changing wholesale prices.

As of May 1st2018, the pricing structure will change. NBNco as a wholesaler, are planning to change prices for Retail Service Providers such as Optus, Telstra, iiNet, Dodo and so on. This price change is directly an impact to the RSP, not to the end user (you).

The old (pre 1stMay 2018) pricing structure by retailers was actually not directly consumer friendly. A service of 50Mbps would cost retailers $34 to deliver to you to your door, but you would be paying on average $80. This means connecting a cable from the node or exchange to your house. In order to provide you with actual internet, the RSP needs to buy upstream bandwidth.

To draw up an example, let us assume that the RSP has 5000 customers on a 50Mbps plan. To maintain bandwidth for 100% capacity, RSP should be buying 250,000Mbps (250Gbps) of upstream bandwidth. Logically, this would be a complete waste. More than likely, RSPs would look at upstream of 10Gbps which costs $175,000 per month. So $175,000 bandwidth costs / 5,000 users + $34 cost = $69 cost to the RSP and you are paying them $80. $80 – $69 = $11 “profit” (not including staffing, marketing, other costs)

A variety of RSPs such as Telstra, Aussie Broadband and Exetel are promising user experience at a slightly higher cost, while others are selling cheaper plans. This is where the RSPs business model / customer service comes in to consideration.

Due to the poor planning by these RSPs, NBNCo is forcing them to have some guaranteed bandwidth per customer. As a result, the same numbers used previously will have a different outcome. For every client that buys a plan of 50Mbps, the NBNco is including 2Mbps of guaranteed upstream bandwidth.

Although this guaranteed bandwidth will benefit consumers, it comes at an increased price for the RSP. Rather than NBNCo charging $34, they will be charging $45. But because there’s guaranteed upstream bandwidth, logically RSPs will purchase less. In its place, RSPs will instead spend $140K (for 8Gbps) rather than $175K (10Gbps). Therefore, $140,000 / 5,0000 + $45 = $73 cost to the RSP for the “same” service they are providing as of pre 1stMay. A loss of $4 profit from last months pricing.

While it seems that consumers will gain from this change in pricing (due to the guaranteed upstream), it will likely result in issues. RSPS will likely be forced to cut down on how much bandwidth they buy to save costs, this will result in ‘peak traffic’ times to become increasingly worse. As a result of this, the NBN blame game will continue to prevail, due to incorrect finger pointing.

An industry professional with ten years experience says, “I think we need more transparency from RSPs and NBNCo. I know personally I’d rather pay a premium for a guaranteed speed, where others who don’t use the Internet as frequently would rather a cheaper service that will suffice for basic use”.

Ultimately, it is your choice as a consumer to choose your RSP. The lack of transperancy is making this decision clouded and unfair. Not all NBN plans are created equally.

The Brat is Back

To be selected to represent your country playing sport, or to be named one of the top sportsman of that particular sport in my opinion is an honour. It grants a status and a level of sportsmanship that should be met at any level, understanding that at times we are faced with the toughest of circumstances.

Nick Kyrgios.f_180115_kyrgios_15.jpg

An uprising young Australian tennis star, who has been  in the spotlight displaying natural talent and the qualities to become number one. I give credit where credit is needed, and for this it is great to see such natural talent emerging in Australia.

However.

Earning and maintaining this title comes with regulations an athlete must adhere to at all times. As an athlete fairness, integrity, responsibility, and respect, are key factors in maintaining your reputation throughout the world.

As a former tennis player we are taught discipline and integrity. Discipline in how we present ourselves and play, integrity in how we choose to play. I feel as if these are two key components our legendary Nick Kyrgios lacks.

Touching on the most recent of his ‘performances’, the Shanghai Masters. Uncaringly serving and returning to his opposition Misha Zverev, going down 6-3, 6-1. He evidently displayed careless and unprofessional behaviour, and to an extent had reportedly clashed with fans. Due to his behaviour and actions, so far he has been hit with a $16,500 fine which has now increased by an additional $25,000 including his 8-week tournament suspension. However now the ATP has agreed that “The suspension will be reduced to three tournament weeks upon agreement that the player enters a plan of care under the direction of a sports psychologist, or an equivalent plan approved by ATP, meaning Kyrgios could regain eligibility to compete on the ATP World Tour or Challenger Tour from Monday 7 November 2016.”  Tennis Australia said they “support the ATP sanction on Nick Kyrgios following recent events in Shanghai”.

Sportsbet even went to the effort, refunding customers who placed bets on the athlete.

Once the match had concluded the athlete said ““I don’t owe (fans) anything … If you don’t like it, I didn’t ask you to come watch”. And tonight has released the following statement:

Following the ATP’s decision today I would like to take this opportunity to apologise again for the circumstances in Shanghai. The season has been a long one as I battled several injuries and other challenges towards the end of the summer. The Asian circuit was particularly tough after the long week and win in Tokyo and with the travel throughout the continent, my body finally just gave out in Shanghai both physically and mentally. This is no excuse, and I know very well that I need to apologise to the fans – in Shanghai and in other parts of the world – as well as the tournament organisers in Shanghai who do an amazing job. I of course know how important the fans are to the success of our sport and I personally love the interaction with fans in the many different cities throughout the world on the tennis circuit.  I am someone who gives a huge amount of time to my fans because I love and value their support. Their energy is what motivates me to reach for the top of the game. I regret that my year is ending this way and that I will not have a chance to continue chasing the ATP Finals.  This was an important goal for me. I do understand and respect the decision by the ATP and I will use this time off to improve on and off the court. I am truly sorry and look forward to returning in 2017.

NK

However the Shanghai is not the first of Kyrgios’s performances:

And the list continues….

Contradictory is a fine trait of the young superstar, and anger is one of his finest qualities. One of the MAIN fundamentals becoming a tennis player, and something that is consistently drilled into a players head at an early age, is to contain your emotions and focus on the game. By doing so, overcoming the most challenging barriers (yourself) you sport-preview-nick-kyrgiosprove that you have what it takes to become the best. You are at an international level where there are endless streams of young Aussie players aspiring to become like you, and you show them by smashing multiple rackets, back-chatting to officials and conceding a game because of a ‘challenging week’. How can Tennis Australia allow you to continue to hold your ranking and travel the international circuit? It is only now that the ATP has finally acknowledge the unacceptable and most importantly unprofessional behaviour.

As a player your ability is there, however you lack what my coaches call a “mental-toughness”. You are not mentally tough at all, yes you have the ability to come back after a losing by a large margin, or endure long games in the heat. But how can you not handle that things may not go right for you all the time? Or you become injury prone like you have said and may not be able to compete at your full potential? Acting like a brat as you have been and listening to your ego is obviously not the way to go.

John McEnroe, one of the greatest tennis players of all time. However, what comes to mind  thinking of him? For myself it is the multiple bursts of anger he displayed on and off the court. Which is what Kyrgios is beginning to be known for. Articles read “Kyrgios is too good for a coach”, although this may be the one thing he is missing. Constant discipline, not from his family but from an outsider and someone who has extensive knowledge on and off the court. Legendary coach Nick Bollettieri explains that the young professional needs someone that will listen and not to be told to continuously “stop that”. This may just be the stepping stone for Kyrgios, and the turning point in his attitude to become the world number 1.

For someone that has openly expressed that Tennis is not the ideal a
venue they want to pursue, and in actual fact basketball is their true calling. Then kid you’ve truly been blessed, and possess something that I wish I had.

As a tennis player I understand the anger and frustration, the disappointment and the hurt. But how was I was taught, never express your emotions for those around you to see. Never use your emotions to throw off another player, and never allow your emotions to defeat you.

But until you learn to contain yourself and grow out of your brat stage, I hope for the sake of all tennis federations you continue to be penalised for your actions. So aspiring tennis players understand that expressing unprofessional behaviour on and off the court is unacceptable, and not the way tennis is portrayed. Most importantly to be continually let off for your offensive and unprofessional behaviour. Tennis should be driven by motivation, passion and integrity. Not ego and anger.

Rather than having headlines “booted off ATP”, headlines should be reading “yet another effortless”. Or so you would hope…

The world has witnessed McEnroe. We don’t need another.