Promoter Barry Hearn says Hong Kong can help revive 'dead sport' of table tennis
Peter Simpson in London
International sports promoter Barry Hearn has challenged Hong Kong to become a major player in turning table tennis into a million-dollar glamour sport.
Hearn launched the Ping Pong World Championships in London last weekend, aiming to make his version of table tennis more "rock and roll" and turn it into a global TV spectator event.
He now plans to construct a global ping pong qualifying infrastructure and then replicate the model as a franchise in selected territories around the world, and hopes Hong Kong is part of that.
"This is not going to happen overnight but I will need a person in Hong Kong who can deliver and guarantee so many qualifying events to find six qualifying players to take part in the championship," Hearn, 64, said.
"If someone comes to me with that proposition, I will say to them 'turn it into a business and show me what you can do'. They will make a few mistakes along the way, as will we. But I think they will be successful."
Hearn said viewer figures from the live TV screening of last week's two day championships trebled expected figures.
"The response I have had from TV companies and sponsors has been brilliant," he said.
"I am looking at the figures from the world championships and I am now thinking I can establish this quite quickly and get global partners to take over different territories to build this into a really major event," he said.
Hearn's version differs from standard table tennis as competitors must use old-school sandpaper-surfaced hard-bats that slow down rallies and, according to Hearn, make the game easier and more exciting to watch.
"This is not an exercise in thumbing our noses at the International Table Tennis Federation. But table tennis as a sport is dead," he said.
"You're not going to get kids to pick up the game if it is not aspirational. I need to get my tournament up to US$1 million prize money as quickly as possible."