Boosting in Table Tennis is a controversial topic. Although ITTF regulations prohibit it, we still see that most top players continue to use boosters to improve their rackets.
Some players see boosters as cheaters, while others think boosting is completely fine because everyone does it, even though it’s illegal.
I believe that the use of boosters is detrimental to the sport in many different ways, and that the ITTF must start enforcing the rule that prohibits boosting. If they don’t, the rules of the sport will have to keep changing constantly for the foreseeable future.
Let me explain.
How boosting works
Table Tennis boosters are chemicals that make rubbers play a lot better than they do out of the package.
This chemical is applied directly onto the sponge and it’s absorbed slowly, injecting tension into the rubber. At the end of the process, the rubber has completely different characteristics than at the beginning.
Boosted rubbers are much faster, softer, spinnier, sound louder, hits are crisper and rubbers acquire a characteristic shiny look.
Boosted rubbers retain their effects for 4-12 weeks, and then you have to repeat the boosting process or switch the rubbers out for new ones. For more detail, check out our article on how to boost your rubbers.
Anyone who knows about boosters can recognize a boosted rubber when they see one. Despite this, boosters are still used, even though it’s illegal and it’s evident that the rackets of virtually all the professional players are boosted.
The stance of the ITTF on boosting
Modern boosters were invented after the speed glue ban in 2007. Speed glue was another chemical used to increase the speed of rubber, but it was banned due to health concerns.
After this, the game slowed down considerably, so top offensive players started looking for a way to speed up their rubbers again without using speed glue, and the boosters we know of today were born.
Speed glue was VOC-based. VOCs (Volatile organic compounds) are chemicals that have a high vapor pressure at room temperature and are detectable using a VOC sensor.
To detect speed glued rubbers, the ITTF used this VOC sensor. To this day, if a racket doesn’t emit VOCs, it’s legal.
Thus boosters were born, chemicals that do not contain VOCs, but have a huge effect on the performance of rubbers.
Boosters are illegal according to the ITTF:
“The racket covering shall be used without any physical, chemical or other treatment”.Rule 2.4.7
This rule makes boosters illegal. Rubbers must be used without any additional treatment.
However, as the testing procedure looks for VOCs, which boosters do not have, boosters are undetectable by the ITTF, making them viable as an option for enhancing your rubbers.
Referees and players know that everyone boosts their rubbers, and although it is illegal, no one can do anything about it until the testing methods are changed.
5 reasons why boosting hurts the sport
I have already explained that boosting is illegal according to the rules, but legal in practice.
My opinion is that boosters should be completely banned, but regardless of what I think, it is obvious that the ITTF should take a stronger stance on the matter. Boosting in Table Tennis today is a loophole.
The ITTF could say they are legal and deregulate everything or continue to take the position that they are illegal and actually enforce the rules.
I will now explain the reasons why boosters should be banned.
1) Boosting accelerates the game
The first reason why boosters should be banned is that it speeds up the sport to very high levels.
Boosters are still being developed, and they are getting better and better.
In the year 2021, the Falco Tempo Platinium was released, an even more powerful version of the most popular booster, the Falco Tempo Long.
These developments in booster technologies are making rubbers even faster and spinnier, and the game is getting more and more distorted as a result.
The increased speed of the sport makes it more boring to watch, as most points are decided on third ball attacks or forced errors due to the very high playing speed.
Spectacular rallies are now mostly present in women’s matches, where we can see much longer and more interesting points since the speed of play is somewhat slower.
In recent years, Table Tennis has rewarded physical players such as Ma Long, more than tactical players such as Jan-Ove Waldner.
Today, matches at a high level are mostly defined by which player can hit faster than the opponent, or which player can react in time to counter the fastest shots. There are virtually no allround players on the ITTF circuit.
It is much more a game of strength and reaction than of spin, tactics, and technique as it was in Jan-Ove Waldner’s time, for example.
Today, Waldner’s style would not be nearly as effective as it once was, as he thrived in an era in which the ball traveled a lot slower, which gave him enough time to pull off his intelligent tactics and magnificent blocks.
2) Boosting kills style diversity
Because of the added speed, boosters kill style diversity.
If rackets are getting faster and faster, to the point that certain counter topspins and third ball attacks are virtually unreturnable, then the game at high levels is going to gravitate towards rewarding those strategies.
At the time of writing, there are only 2 defenders who can compete at the world level, Ruwen Filus and Hou Yingchao.
If the game is accelerated to very high levels, attackers will benefit greatly compared to defensive players and all-around players.
This also affects how the sport is taught in clubs. Club players are going to be taught the style that works the best.
Many times I heard players complain that Table Tennis clubs only teach offensive styles, and not everyone wants to be an attacking player! There are lots of people who enjoy defending or playing away from the table a lot more than attacking.
If you join a Table Tennis club, they will most likely teach you the shakehand grip (link the different grips of table tennis), topspin strokes from both sides, and tell you not to go backwards, to stay near to the table.
This is because attacking is the predominant style. In the past you could find many more viable playstyles, nowadays all clubs just want to teach the attacking style at close range.
Boosters and newer equipment have a lot to do with this, as what is effective at the higher levels is taught at clubs.
On top of that, all the new rubbers that come out are factory boosted, so even if you don’t boost them yourself, any player who buys one of the latest rubbers is going to have a very fast boosted rubber.
This makes it very difficult for players with other styles to compete against offensive players with these rubbers.
If boosters didn’t exist and players’ rackets were slower, defensive and allround players would have a much better chance of beating their offensive counterparts.
But as the speed of the game increases, the variety of styles ceases to exist, as all non-offensive styles are increasingly disadvantaged with every increase in speed.
Defensive play is usually only taught to women because they play at a slower pace and it is much easier for defenders to return topspins.
Being a male defender nowadays is not effective at all at higher levels, which is honestly quite sad, since the most interesting matches are between offensive players and defensive players.
One of the reasons why I love playing Table Tennis is style diversity. Table Tennis would be very boring if everyone played the same, and sadly, it looks like that’s where the sport’s heading towards.
3) Boosting makes equipment a deciding factor
The third reason why boosters should be banned is that they make equipment take a more important place in the sport.
Until about 2000, the vast majority of European players used Yasaka Mark V rubbers or the Butterfly Sriver, while the Chinese used their own rubbers.
Back then, equipment did not have as much place in the game as it does today. Now we have hundreds of different models to choose from, and if we add the booster, then there is even more variability.
It is undeniable that a high-level player who boosts their rubbers has an advantage over someone who does not. Most players of that level boost their rubbers and are constantly looking for better rubbers and better boosters.
If boosters are banned, players will be able to choose between different rubber models, and that’s it. I think that’s enough to customize each player’s rackets but not to the point that they’re using illegal chemicals to make them better.
In my opinion, a player who chemically treats his rubbers with the best booster and using the best process should not have an advantage over someone who doesn’t. Advantages in the game should be purely because one is a better player than the other.
4) Boosting causes instability in Table Tennis.
Boosting causes instability in Table Tennis as the rules have to adapt to the circumstances it creates.
When the game speeds up, the ITTF is always forced to take action to slow it down, although these changes often take years to happen. It is not good for the sport when the game speeds up as 3rd ball attacks end up dominating the game. It is not entertaining for spectators.
We can see this effect with the changes of the ball to a bigger ball, and then with the change to the plastic ball, or with the speed glue ban in 2007.
It is not good for the sport that the rules have to be changing all the time just because the equipment, including boosters, is getting better and better.
5) Boosting makes the sport more reliant on time and money
The process of boosting takes a lot of effort in terms of money and time. As we explained in our boosting guide, the process needs the chemical, 3-5 days and lots of table tennis rubbers.
If you boost your rubber, then the effect will usually wear off in 1 to 2 months, at which point you’d need to reboost your rubber to get the same performance.
But it’s not that simple.
If you boosted your rubber with 2 layers or more, then your rubber will start to become soft and unresponsive once you re-boost it, potentially making the rubber unusable.
If you boosted your rubber with 1 layer, then you’d be losing performance against those who are able to boost their rubbers with 2 layers and replace their rubbers every month or two.
Players who have more money and time to boost their rubbers shouldn’t have an edge over those who don’t. Especially because these players aren’t even abiding by the ITTF rules of not boosting.
In conclusion, I think boosters have to be banned because they make the sport more unstable, more expensive, more boring, and ultimately, more unfair.
The ITTF should take steps to update its testing methods and enforce the rules.
As the boosters’ main advantage is the increase in speed, the ITTF could conduct bounce tests over the players’ rackets.
Say, for example, Lin Gaoyuan is playing with ITTF-approved blade Lin Gaoyuan ALC and two Tenergy rubbers. The ITTF could assemble a brand new racket and compare the bounce between Lin’s racket and the supposed Lin’s racket out of the box (unboosted).
They could also assemble the rackets for players during major tournaments, players could present their blade of choice to the ITTF, tell them what rubbers they want and the ITTF staff can assemble their rackets with brand new, unboosted rubbers.
It’s going to be difficult to end boosting, there’s no doubt about that. The ITTF will need to keep finding measures to test for illegal tampering, as they did with speed glue. Even then, players and manufacturers will keep trying to find loopholes to find a small amount of extra performance.
It’s evident that almost every top player boosts their rubbers because they gain an advantage, but the sport as a whole would improve in lots of different aspects if boosting didn’t exist.
Top Benefits of Stopping Booster Use
- The sport would stop being so much about equipment, which would improve the possibilities of skill expression with an even field of unboosted rackets.
- Style diversity would improve because the offensive third ball attack style would stop being so favored over all the other playstyles.
- The sport would stop being so unstable, needing rule changes every few years to keep it balanced.
- Table tennis would be easier for everyone to play at a high level since boosting now is almost mandatory and very costly.
- The speed of Table Tennis at high levels would decrease, making it more enjoyable for viewers, producing many more of the spectacular long rallies we all love. There wouldn’t be as many mistakes due to speed.
Alvaro’s been playing Table Tennis since he was 15 and is now ranked within the top 100 in his native Argentina. He loves to compete in provincial tournaments and is always looking for ways to improve. Alvaro made his favourite memories with a racket in hand, and he joined the RacketInsight team to share his passion with other players!