With an ambitious goal to eventually become the best table tennis league in the world, the T.League Premier League will kick off in Japan in the fall of 2018.
On Friday, the league held a meeting in Tokyo for companies and groups that are interested in competing in the brand-new circuit. League managing director and former professional player Koji Matsushita revealed at a news conference following the meeting that a total of 12 companies came to the meeting and about 20, including those 12, are considering applying to become league members.
The T.League plans to start with the top-flight Premier League first, and then expand as it forms lower tiers a few years after that.
The application period for the Premier League began on Friday and will end on Nov. 30. The circuit will have four teams apiece for men and women. The league will then select the eight teams that will play in the inaugural season in January.
On the opening day for the application period, life engineering firm Kinoshita Group Holdings Co. Ltd., submitted its forms to the league. The Tokyo-based corporation, which employs Rio de Janeiro Olympics men’s singles bronze medalist Jun Mizutani, handed the league two application documents as it intends to play both in the men’s and women’s competitions.
The Premier League will be played between October 2018, and March 2019, for its first season. Each club will play nine matches at home, nine away and three at neutral sites in the regular season, with the top two teams advancing to the title game.
Each club will be required to have at least one player who has achieved top-10 world ranking in the last two years. The league expects clubs to acquire some of the top global stars as well.
Matsushita said that the league has drawn “more inquires” than it had originally anticipated from overseas so far.
Matsushita, the first-ever Japanese professional player to compete in leagues in Germany, France and China, insisted that having a legit competitive league will benefit Japanese players in terms of their development for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and beyond.
Matsushita, 50, said that China regained its competitiveness after it formed a professional league in 1995. He hopes to bring the same result to Japan with the formation of the T.League.
“I played in Germany and China, too, and they just want players from outside of their countries to come in and play in their leagues,” said Matsushita, a doubles bronze medalist at the 1997 world championships in Manchester, England. “And you are not bothered to go out (to play in other countries) if you have a league to play inside your country.”
For now, the T.League won’t state that it’s a professional circuit as it expects to have amateur players, including young students such as a 14-year-old phenom Tomokazu Harimoto, as well.
Nonetheless, Matsushita is thinking big about the new enterprise.
“We would absolutely like to make it the best table tennis league in the world,” he said.