Imported Players - Kill or Cure?

Photo of Tammy Gough

Have local players such as Tammy Gough missed out on playing for Australia due to Chinese imports?

Photo by: Mariann Domonkos, courtesy

Today I'd like to raise the table tennis topic of imported players and spend some time discussing the pros and cons of a country importing players to play in their national team at world championships and other important events. Please note that I am just raising issues here, I am not arguing in favour of one side or the other - I'm still not sure whether this is a good thing or not. But it is an issue which I think should be debated at the highest level of the sport, since there are probably a number of local players in the countries around the world who have felt ripped off when an imported player has moved to their country and taken their place in the national team. At any rate, I'm not sure that the current system is the best one we could have.

Since the most common example of this in table tennis is Chinese players moving to another country and then playing on their national team, I'll work from the assumption that the hypothetical player I am talking about is Chinese and wanting to play for Australia - although it really could be from any country to any country I suppose.

The Current Rules on Imported Players

According to the ITTF Handbook for 2004-2005, there are a number of rules about International Eligibility, but since they are written in that typical lawyerlike doublespeak I think that the only ones that matter are these:

  • Rule 3.8.4, 'A player shall not represent different Associations within a period of 3 years.'
  • Rule 3.8.2, 'A player is eligible to represent an Association only if he is a national of the country in which that Association has jurisdiction,...'

I assume that this means if a Chinese player wants to play for Australia, they need to be a national (a citizen? living in Australia for 3 years? Not really sure about this - what the heck does 'a national' actually mean?) for 3 years and then they can legitimately play for Australia.

Points in favour of allowing imported players to play for Australia

  • Imported players can help to raise the standard of table tennis in Australia. They presumably have knowledge of more advanced training methods and techniques, the latest tactics, and what it takes to win at the highest level. If this knowledge can be passed on to players in Australia, this can shortcut the time taken to produce local champions.

  • By playing for the Australian team, the team should be able to rise in the world rankings and play against better competition, exposing the local players to a standard of play they may not have reached on their own.

  • An imported champion can raise the profile of the sport in Australia - just look at the pole vaulters Dmitri Markov and Tatania Grigorieva etc. A higher profile for table tennis in the media means more chances to win advertising dollars and gain new players who have seen the sport on the TV or in the newspapers.

  • An imported champion can also attract more government funding - especially in a country like Australia where Olympic funding goes to the sports in which we are likely to win medals.

  • Beginning players will have a role model to look up to and try to emulate, and can actually see their role model play the sport live.

  • When they are too old to play, the imported player can then become a coach and keep spreading their expertise throughout the sport in Australia.

  • The player is probably coming over here to live because he thinks he will have a better life, so why shouldn't Australia benefit from his experience and abilities?

Points against allowing imported players to play for Australia

  • It can be discouragaing for the current generation of top local players, who have trained for years to reach the top of Australian table tennis and gain the chance to compete for Australia. Suddenly their years of sacrifice and hard work is thrown away as an imported player takes their place in the team.

  • The imported players don't always share their knowledge and experience. How can you force someone to share all that he knows with other players that he will be competing with for places in the Australian team? How would you ever know if he is holding something back from the other players?

  • You may discourage the local up and coming players from continuing with the sport - what is the point of doing all that training if at any time an imported player can simply walk in and take the place you have worked for - why even bother trying?

  • Sometimes the imported player is past their peak - shouldn't we be allowing our local future champions to compete and gain experience instead of an aging foreigner?

  • The richer countries around the world, who have the better lifestyles for the imported player, will probably get the lion's shares of imports. So the richer countries will continue to improve, while the poorer countries will continue to struggle, as their best players leave to compete for the richer countries.

  • It doesn't work - Australia has been importing female Chinese players for the last twenty years and has it been worth the effort? Are we any higher in the world than we would have been without them?

Other issues involved

  • What about the issue of restraint of trade? Can a country restrict a table tennis professional from making a living doing what he does - playing table tennis at the highest level?

  • How old do you have to be in order to be considered an import? What if you move to your new country at age 5? Age 10? Age 15? Age 20? Does it make a difference?

  • Could we limit the number of imports per team? Maybe 1 per team only? Or only 1 import from each country - ie an Australian team could have only 1 original Chinese, 1 Singaporean, 1 New Zealander etc (why we would want a New Zealander I don't know, but it could happen! Just joking all you Kiwis out there!)

  • Perhaps all imported players could have to be citizens of their adopted countries, but what if one country makes you wait 10 years to be a citizen, while other countries only make you wait 1 year - is this fair?


I've got to admit, the jury is still out on this table tennis issue as far as I am concerned. Maybe we will never find an equitable solution to the problem - but at least if we continued to talk about the situation and try to find a fair compromise then things might be better for all concerned.

Do you agree? Disagree? Have a comment you'd like to add to this page? Email me and I'll add your two cent's worth below.


Kent Leung wrote:

(Note: Kent, the email address you supplied doesn't work - if you want me to remove your comment please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - place 'TABLE TENNIS WEBSITE COMMENT REMOVAL' in the subject line - GL 30/4/2005)

Let look at the Nobel Prize winer in USA. Most of them
are imported
guys from other countries and 6 of them from China. Do we have any
debate on why they should not be here? Why we have to debate on Oing Pong.

Kent Leung

Greg replied:

Hi Kent,

Thanks for your comment - it's an interesting point of view. I'm not sure how much status the USA gets from having Noble Prize winners - is it a competition or an honour?

We don't have to have a debate for Ping Pong - although I still think it's a bit tough on the local player who misses out on competitions due to an imported player. I can't see too many locals missing out on competing for the Nobel Prizes - it's open to all isn't it? I'm not really sure about how they select Noble Prize winners.

Anyway, thanks for your opinion on the subject - would you mind if I put your opinion and my reply up on the website? I like to put any comments I get up on the site for other people to think about.


Greg Letts

Thursday 16 November 2006

Ian Low wrote:

Hi Greg,
I really enjoy reading your open, well considered, thought provoking articles on Table Tennis. I thought I'd give my 2 cents worth on your "Imported Players - Kill or Cure?" article.

First of all - I'm Chinese (although having lived in Australia for 25 years I consider myself an Aussie!). Secondly, I'm new to TT so excuse me if I'm ignorant (but have been playing basketball years hence the examples below).

In the Australia Basketball League (NBL) you are (or used to be at any rate) restricted to 2 imports for the whole team. In a basketball team of 10 (5 starters, and 5 on the bench), it means that the Local players get a decent chance at playing and competing, and it also encourages the locals continue training/practicing and competing. Indeed, we have had a number of our locals go on and compete in the biggest basketball arena - the NBA (Andrew Gaze, Shane Heal, Andrew Bogut to name a few)

This I believe is a working model where you can get the benefits of elevating the level of competition/exposure in Australia, elevate our international competitiveness, and coaching (the most successful NBL coach was not born in this country). By the way, I think one way to address the fact that imported players may not always share their knowledge and experience is to point out that a future coaching position will not be available to them since they have not demonstrated any ability to impart knowledge/skill and experience.

Now the kicker is this - Basketball is a team sport, however Table Tennis is an individual sport! I've got to be honest and say that I don't really know too much about the Australian Table Tennis team, and how many people it comprises of. How many do we send for international competitions? However one thing I have to say is that we should limit the number of imports to a maximum of 1 (of course if we only field 1 person for singles, this pretty much kills of this idea!). I am assuming we field a couple of men and women and maybe have an alternates list?

I have a good friend who used to play Badmington at an international level. He was on the Sydney Olympic team until just before the games when a last minute overseas import took his place (This same import crashed out in the first round). One idea I have is to only allow new imports to be on the alternate list for their first year or so of international competition. This would make them still eligible to play if someone couldn't, but would also ensure that they would not just come in and take a well earnt spot from
someone else (well at least not immediately).

My 2c worth.


Wednesday 17th October 2007

Simon Cho wrote:

G'Day Greg,

Just refering to your article - Imported Players Kill or Cure.

Personally for me I have no objections to imported players at all, PROVIDED they are proud of being Australian and not just here to get a game at International Level Competition. I am absolutely against Imported players
who don't give a damn about Australia, don't respect Australian values, don't try to fit in and abuse what this beautiful country is all about.

If I were to decide whether imported players are allowed to play for Aust. I would put them through an Australian history and cultural test simillar to the citizenship one and do an intense personality/character test and interview to see whether they are really proud of playing for Aust. Playing for ones country should be something or great honour and pride. Look at the Australian Test cricket team when a new player gets his cap how proud he is.

I think Aust Table Tennis's import players aren't as proud to play for Aust more for individual reason. We need the ANZAC spirit in the Aust TT team not prima donna's and selfish player.

Just my humble opinion.


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