ESPN Needs to Start Broadcasting the Shady Ukrainian Table Tennis Tournaments Post Haste

By Stephen Douglas
Table tennis balls
Table tennis balls / JUAN MABROMATA/Getty Images
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There are unsanctioned, shady table tennis tournaments taking place overseas right now and until very recently you were able to bet on them. This morning ESPN reported that New Jersey was suspending gambling on Ukrainian table tennis because the gaming commission had been warned about potential match fixing, but it's actually much more complicated and hilarious than that.

For months people have been looking to fill the sports void in their lives with anything. Especially gamblers, who have been reduced to betting on video games and the accuracy of the weather report (probably). So when online betting sites started pushing table tennis tournaments from the other side of the globe, people were happy to jump on the opportunity, wagering hundreds of thousands a day.

There are stories about this on ESPN in May and Forbes in June and it's pretty wild. Basically, the governing bodies of table tennis in these countries have shut down because of the pandemic and multiple tournaments are being played every day.

"The president of the Ukrainian Tennis Table Federation on March 30 urged the stoppage of Setka Cup matches due to the pandemic, saying that anyone who played was subject to disqualification from future UTTF competitions. The UTTF would later disqualify 365 players for competing in Setka Cup matches during the pandemic."

According to Forbes, matches take place all day and appear to only exist for bettors. It is also impossible to tell the players or the score by watching the streams that cut out in the middle of matches.

"But then one look at the tournament names in the Sekta Cup tells you all you need to know about the sporting purity of this competition. “2020-03-14 Men Morning Australia”, “2020-03-04 Men Evening Africa”, “2020-03-13 Men Evening Europe”. Competitors are not being flown all over the world to take part in prestigious table tennis tournaments–they are playing them all from the same spectator-free hall somewhere in the Ukraine. The tournaments are nakedly timed to meet betting peak times in various parts of the world."

ESPN previously ran a piece in May about how questionable these tournaments were. One person they were able to talk to said they weren't even being played in their home countries.

"Marina Znamenskaya, sales and marketing manager with SportLevel, a company that provides data and livestreams and claims Liga Pro as a partner, said in an email to ESPN that the matches are taking place in China, the Czech Republic and Belarus. The locations are secret for a variety of reasons, she wrote, including to prevent fraud and hinder anyone from contacting the athletes."

Someone should really try to get broadcasting rights for these round-the-clock table tennis tournaments played in undisclosed locations. Add a few graphics and a score bug and we can gamble on this stuff again in no time.

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