LONDON – It’s commonly known that the British gave the world rugby and cricket and soccer (though football is the precise term used by the proud English and most of the civilized world).
Long-ago independent Scotland, a fiercely proud member of the United Kingdom, can be thanked for introducing golf to the world.
Most people, though, probably don’t realize that table tennis (ping-pong) is also a British game.
London mayor Boris Johnson commented on this fact during an interview in Beijing four years ago with reporters, an interview that remains poignant and timely now that the Summer Games are in Johnson’s home city.
“Ping-pong was invented on the dining tables of England in the 19th century, and it was called ‘wif-waf.’ And there, I think, you have the different between us and the rest of the world,” Johnson declared.
“Other nations, the French, looked at a dining table and saw an opportunity to have dinner; we looked at it and saw an opportunity to play ‘wif-waf,’ and I say to the Chinese, and to the world, that ping-pong is coming home.”
Indeed, it has. Once every four years, the Olympic table tennis competition is an entertaining spectator sport, though in China the rate of participation among all age groups makes it a mainstream sport.
Walking through the Chinese capital, I saw ping-pong competition in every park I passed through. The dinner diversion caught on in a big way in the world’s most populous nation.