If you caught any of the TV coverage of the Olympic table tennis, you'll know that the game has become so blisteringly fast and fiendish that the action is little more than a blur, rallies are over in the blink of an eye, and as a result it's a pretty useless spectator sport. Now - in another piece of news to delight retroprogressives - sports promoter Barry Hearn aims to rescue table tennis from itself by going back 30 years to reinvent the much more watchable and involving ping pong. This is the game most of us remember from our younger days, when our desperate quest to meet the opposite sex led us to hang around in youth clubs, where ping-pong was one of the few entertainments on offer. Played with a sandpaper-covered bat, ping-pong was - and is and will again be - a slower and more elegant game than modern table tennis, the old-fangled bats offering much less scope for power play and spectacular spin than today's dimpled sponge jobs. Long and (fairly) exciting rallies - even between mediocre players - were the result, a game that was fun to play and to watch.
Table tennis - like so much else in life - has fallen victim to the fatal concept of Progress. This pernicious notion used even to infect the world of classical music - until the period instrument revival demonstrated that composers of earlier centuries weren't blindly groping their way towards the blazing sound of the Berlin Philharmonic circa 1960, and that the music they wrote sounds far better on the instruments it was written for. One can only hope that a period sports revival might now be on the way, with (for example) lawn tennis reverting to wooden racquets and gut strings and regaining its erstwhile elegance. The ping-pong revival might be just the start. Boris was surely right when he gave his pre-Olympic rallying cry of 'Ping-pong's coming home!' Whiff whaff - the precursor to ping-pong, played with books and a golf ball or cigar box lids and champagne corks - surely cannot be far behind.