The International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) was founded in 1926. Table tennis made its Olympic debut at the 1988 Seoul Games.
There are four table tennis events on the Olympic programme: men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s team and women’s team. Doubles events used to be contested when the sport debuted in 1988. However, they were dropped at the 2008 Beijing Games in favour of the hugely popular team events in which three players from the same country make up a team.
The maximum number of players who can take part in the Olympic Games table tennis events are 86 men and 86 women – with not more than three men and three women from each National Olympic Committee (NOC). Given that China normally has five or more players ranked in the world’s top 20, this means competition for a place on the national team can be fierce!
In singles, the top 16 seeds advance straight into the round of the last 32, while the other players compete in knock-out qualification rounds for the other 16 places. The main draw is a knockout tournament and matches are played to the best of seven games. The team events for the men and the women are played in two stages. A round-robin stage with groups of four teams is followed by playoffs. The group winners play for gold and silver, while the runner-ups compete with the semi-final losers for the bronze medal.