Home  »  Official Rules   »  

Handbook for table tennis umpire and referee

A player asked me to provide the handbook for table tennis umpire and referee. So here is the recap of the rules and regulations that any table tennis umpire should know (compiled by EmRatThich).

The source: ITTF handbook for match referee and officials.

How to become an official table tennis umpire

A player asked me to provide the handbook for table tennis umpire and referee. You should read this handbook to become the table tennis umpire and referee.

Question about table tennis referee and umpire
Question about table tennis referee and umpire

About ITTF

The International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), founded in 1926, is the world-governing body of the sport with 226 member Associations in the world.

ITTF supervises the staging of annual World Championships, which involve over 800 players from all continents, and several other world title events. Its main function is to govern and develop the sport for the benefit of over thirty million competitive players in all parts of the world.

Table tennis is both an Olympic and Paralympic sport and is in the program of the respective Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games.

How to use this handbook

This is the handbook for match officials (umpire and referee in table tennis).

The purpose of this booklet is to guide match officials on the application of laws and regulations, and it should be read in conjunction with the current ITTF Handbook or Rules booklet (also available from the ITTF website). It deals mainly with the duties of umpires and assistant umpires, but it also includes aspects of the referee’s duties in relation to the control of matches. The Handbook for Tournament Referees covers the wider duties of a tournament referee.


2.1 Applicability

2.1.1 The first requirement of a match official is a sound knowledge of the rules, comprising laws and regulations, which govern competitive table tennis, complemented by a clear understanding of the extent to which they apply to different types of competition. The relevant information is contained in Chapters 2, 3 and 4 of the ITTF Handbook.

2.2 Laws

2.2.1 The “Laws of Table Tennis”, referred to hereafter as “laws”, are contained in Chapter 2. The laws apply to all international play and are generally adopted by Associations for their domestic competitions, although any Association has the right to introduce variations for competitions that concern only its own players. A law can be changed only at a General Meeting, with the agreement of a 75% majority of those voting.

2.3 Regulations

2.3.1 Chapter 3 contains the “Regulations for International Competitions”, referred to hereafter as “regulations”, which apply, in general, to all international competitions. The additional regulations for world title events, including World Championships, are given in Chapter 4. These regulations can be changed only at a meeting of the ITTF Board of Directors, by a simple majority of those voting.


3.1 Open Tournaments

3.1.1 An open tournament is a competition, organised with the authority of the Association in whose territory it is held, which is open for entry to the players of any Association. In all such tournaments there may be minor variations of the regulations where the organising authority is unable or unwilling to meet all of the requirements, usually in respect of playing conditions such as playing space.

3.1.2 Where an open tournament does not comply with a particular regulation, the entry form must state clearly the nature and the extent of any variations, so that intending competitors will know in advance the limitations that will apply. A competitor who submits such an entry form is assumed to have understood and accepted the limitations, and the tournament will then be conducted under the modified regulations.

3.1.3 Each season an Association may nominate one senior, one junior and one veterans’ open tournament, which it organises as its Senior, Junior or Veterans’ Open International Championships, and for such a tournament, the regulations can be modified only with the permission of the ITTF Executive Committee. Similarly, any variations for World Championships must be authorised by the ITTF Board of Directors and for Continental Championships by the appropriate Continental Federation. An Association, in addition, may also organize a Para table tennis tournament.

3.1.4 Since 1996, a number of Open International Championships have been included in a “World Tour Circuit” (previously known as Pro-Tour Circuit). They are organised directly under the auspices of ITTF and, from time to time, they incorporate experimental variations of laws and regulations authorised by ITTF Board of Directors. Such variations may apply to all World Tour tournaments in a season or be on an individual basis, and details will be given in the relevant entry form.

table tennis is a competitive non-contact sport
table tennis is a competitive non-contact sport

3.2 Restricted Tournaments

3.2.1 Domestic tournaments, in which all the players are from the same Association and tournaments that are restricted to players from a defined area or to members of specific groups or professions are not automatically covered by the regulations. For these competitions the organising authority has the right to decide which of the regulations will apply and what variations, if any, it wishes to make.

3.3 Other International Competitions

3.3.1 International team matches, other than those in World or Continental Championships, normally observe all the regulations, but the participating Associations may agree on modifications. In these and other international competitions, it should be assumed that all the appropriate regulations are in force unless the published conditions of the event state that there are exceptions and make clear what the exceptions are.


4.1 Referee

4.1.1 For every competition as a whole, a referee is appointed, usually with one or more deputies who can act on his or her behalf. The referee or an authorized deputy must be present in the playing hall throughout play, to decide any question of rule interpretation, on which he or she is the sole authority, and generally to ensure that the competition is conducted in accordance with the relevant laws and regulations.

4.1.2. Where the referee is the sole arbiter, such as in allowing a temporary suspension of play for injury or disqualifying a player for misbehavior, he or she must act consistently and avoid any suspicion of partiality to particular players. In major competitions, it is recommended that the referee and his or her deputies be from different Associations, so that there is always a “neutral” official to adjudicate in a dispute.

4.1.3 The referee is responsible for the appointment of match officials. Although he or she will not normally make such appointments himself or herself, he or she must be satisfied that the officials are competent and that they act fairly and consistently. He or she should explain to the umpires, in his or her pre-tournament briefing, how he or she expects laws and regulations to be applied, especially where any of these are new or might be contentious.

4.1.4 The players are under the jurisdiction of the referee from the time at which they arrive at the playing venue until the time at which they leave it. The practice hall or area is considered part of the playing venue.

the role of ITTF umpire and referee
the role of ITTF umpire and referee

4.2 Umpire

4.2.1 For each match there is an umpire, whose primary duty is to decide the result of each rally. In principle, the umpire has no discretionary powers, but he or she is required to exercise judgment in applying some laws and regulations, such as deciding whether a rally should be a let because a player’s service or return may have been affected by circumstances outside the player’s control, or whether a player’s behavior is acceptable.

4.2.2 Where the umpire is officiating alone, he or she has the final decision on all questions of fact that arise during a match, including decisions on all edge balls and on all aspects of service. In these circumstances he or she is directly responsible also for timing the duration of play, but when the expedite system is in operation he or she is assisted by another official who acts as stroke counter.

4.2.3 Although the umpire is obliged to accept certain decisions made by other match officials, he or she is entitled to seek an explanation if he or she believes that an official has made a decision that is outside his or her jurisdiction. If, on inquiry, he or she finds that an official has acted in this way he or she can overrule the decision wrongly made by that official, either by reversing it or, more usually, by declaring the rally a let.

4.2.4 The umpire should be about 2-3 meters from the side of the table, in line with the net, preferably on a slightly raised chair, although this is not essential for singles. For doubles, the umpire is advised to stand if his or her seat is not high enough for him or her to see clearly whether in service the ball bounces on the correct half-courts. Standing for singles is not recommended, because it unnecessarily obstructs the view of spectators.

4.2.5 The players are under the jurisdiction of the umpire from the time at which they arrive at the playing area until the time at which they leave it.

ITTF international umpire and referee
ITTF international umpire and referee

4.3 Assistant Umpire

4.3.1 For international competitions, an assistant umpire is appointed and he or she takes over or shares some of the umpire’s duties. For example, an assistant umpire is solely responsible for decisions on edge balls at the side of the table nearest to him or her, and he or she has the same power as the umpire to decide the legality of a player’s service action, whether a player obstructs the ball and some of the conditions for a let.

4.3.2 If either the umpire or the assistant umpire decides that a player’s service action is illegal, that a player obstructs the ball, that the ball in service touches the net or that the conditions of play are disturbed in a way that could affect the outcome of the rally, that decision stands.

4.3.3 Nevertheless, a decision taken by one of these officials may, in some circumstances, be pre-empted by a decision of the other. For instance, whether or not the ball touches the edge of the playing surface on the side nearest to the assistant umpire may be irrelevant if the umpire has already seen a player move the playing surface. Similarly, a service that is judged illegal by the assistant umpire may not be penalized if the umpire has previously decided that the rally is a let because a ball from another table has come into the playing area.

4.3.4 The assistant umpire should be seated directly opposite the umpire, in line with the net, and at about the same distance from the table. The assistant umpire should not stand for doubles.

4.4 Timekeeper

4.4.1 The assistant umpire may act as timekeeper, but some umpires prefer to carry out this function themselves, perhaps because they wish to decide for themselves how much time to allow for interruptions in play. The timekeeper is required to monitor the duration of practice, of play in a game, of intervals between games and of any authorised suspension of play, and his or her decision is final on the time that has elapsed.

4.5 Stroke Counter

4.5.1 Stroke counting when the expedite system is in operation is normally undertaken by a separate official, but the assistant umpire also can act as stroke counter. The stroke counter’s duty is solely to count the return strokes of the receiver and his or her decision on this question of fact cannot be overruled. If the assistant umpire does act as stroke counter, he or she still retains his or her full responsibilities as assistant umpire. The recommended position for the stroke counter is standing next to the umpire so the umpire can clearly hear the counting (in a large court with a vocal crowd it can be difficult to hear from the opposite side of the playing area). If this is not possible for reasons of TV cameras, or blocking the sight of spectators, then the stroke counter should stand next to the assistant umpire. Exceptionally, if both positions would cause issues for TV and/or spectators, the stroke counter may be seated next to the umpire.

4.6 Appeals

4.6.1 A player, or in a team match his or her captain, may appeal against what he or she believes to be a wrong rule interpretation by the umpire, assistant umpire or stroke counter, but no appeal may be made against a decision on fact by any of these officials in accordance with his or her designated authority. Such an appeal may be made to the referee, whose decision is final on any question of rule interpretation.

4.6.2 If, however, the player or captain believes that the referee is incorrect a further appeal may be made, by the player’s Association, to the ITTF Rules Committee. This committee will give a ruling for future occasions but it cannot change the decision already made by the referee. An appeal may be made also to the tournament management committee against a referee’s decision on any matter not covered by a rule.

4.6.3 In responding to appeals, the referee must take care to observe the relevant procedures. In an individual event, he or she should deal only with the player or pair; a team captain or coach should not be allowed to intercede on his or her player’s behalf, but an interpreter may assist where there is a language difficulty. In a team match, any protest by a player that is not supported by his or her team captain should be ignored.

4.6.4 When the appeal is against the action of a match official, only that official should participate in the argument of the case. The referee may at some stage wish to hear the evidence or opinion of another official or a witness, but once that person has made his or her statement he or she should take no further part in any discussion, and interference by anyone not directly concerned must be firmly discouraged.

ITTF Blue badge umpire the highest level of table tennis umpire
ITTF Blue badge umpire the highest level of table tennis umpire

4.7 Replacement

4.7.1 There may be occasions during a competition, either before a match or after play has started, when there is a question about the ability of a match official to carry out the duties for which he or she has been appointed. Such occasions are rare but when they do occur the referee must be ready to use his or her authority to deal with the matter, possibly replacing the official concerned if that is the only appropriate course of action.

4.7.2 The essential question for the referee is whether the appointment of a particular official, or the retention of an official already appointed, is likely to lead to an unfair result in the match. If an official is acting correctly and consistently and is not showing deliberate partiality it would be unreasonable for the referee to replace him or her simply because his or her decisions might affect one player or pair more than the other.

4.7.3 A complaint by a player that an umpire is too strict in his or her application of the laws or that he or she has been the subject of a previous protest by the player does not automatically disqualify him or her from officiating at a match in which that player is due to take part. Similarly, disputes between a match official and a player or captain during a match, however protracted, do not necessarily justify the replacement of that official.

4.7.4 Occasional mistakes by an umpire, especially if quickly corrected, would not normally justify his or her removal and it is generally better for the referee not to intervene during a game even when mistakes are more persistent, provided it is clear that the outcome of the match is not being prejudiced. Account must be taken, however, particularly in staged matches, of the possible effect on public presentation.

4.7.5 If, and only if, the referee is satisfied that the retention of an official is likely to prejudice a fair result, owing to complete loss of confidence by the players in the official’s competence or judgment, that official may be replaced by another. The change should be made with the least possible fuss and the referee should explain carefully to the replaced official the reason for his or her action, avoiding any public display of criticism.

4.7.6 Where an official is replaced for making wrong decisions, the score resulting from these decisions cannot be changed if they were made on questions of fact within his or her jurisdiction. If they were made through a misinterpretation of rule or were outside his or her jurisdiction, consideration may be given to replaying any game whose result was affected, but it is generally better to proceed from the score that has been reached.

4.8 Presentation

4.8.1 In addition to their responsibility for ensuring a fair result, match officials have an essential part to play in the presentation of a match. This should not, however, encourage them to indulge in personal showmanship and the best tribute to a good team of match officials is that they are not noticed, because they control play so unobtrusively that players and spectators can concentrate totally on the match.

4.8.2 While on duty match officials should look alert and interested in the match at which they are officiating. Players, to whom each match is a serious matter, do not always welcome a jocular or light-hearted attitude. Officials should not leave their places during a match unless they need to do so for a specific purpose, such as to retrieve the match ball at the end of a game or to restore the position of surrounds.

4.8.3 Even when off-duty, match officials should take care not to behave in a way which may prejudice their authority or which may reflect unfavorably on their Associations or on the sport. Good relationships with players are important, but care should be taken not to appear unduly friendly with particular players or to give any indication of partiality. Public criticism of other officials or organizers must be avoided.

4.8.4 Match officials are also responsible for the appearance of the playing area during a match. It should be kept tidy and free from unnecessary people and equipment, and any disturbance of the table or surrounds should be corrected immediately. Only officials directly concerned with a match should be allowed in the playing area, positioned so that they are as unobtrusive as possible consistent with their being able to carry out their duties.

4.8.5 Organisers, normally in conjunction with the referee, usually set a limit for the number of persons allowed on the “team bench” and, in an individual event, there may also be a limit on the number of people allowed to accompany the players or pairs. It is the duty of the umpire to ensure that any such limits are observed and, if necessary, play should be suspended until those not entitled to be there have withdrawn. 4.8.6 If wearing a jacket it is suggested to close jackets when entering the field of play, and during the pre- or post-match presentation. However, whilst sitting down, it may be better to open the jacket for easier arm movements. It is important, at all tournaments, to make professional presentation a habit and something that the umpire feels natural and comfortable with at all times. (See Appendix F)

4.9 Uniform for Umpires

4.9.1 Most Associations have adopted standards of clothing for their match officials, consisting usually of a jacket and trousers or skirt of specified colours, but the same clothing may not be suitable in all environments. For instance, in very warm conditions it may be intolerable for an official to have to wear a jacket throughout what may prove to be a long match, while some playing halls may be uncomfortably cold.

4.9.2 In these circumstances, the team of officials for a match should agree among themselves reasonable variations so that if, for example, they need to wear pullovers, these are all of the same colour. The most important consideration is that the officials are neatly dressed, as uniformly as is practicable, but it should be confirmed that any proposed changes to the normal uniform are acceptable to the organisers of the competition. 4.9.3 The URC has adopted a standard umpire’s uniform for major ITTF Events. Refer to Appendix F for details.

4.9.4 Unless approved by the referee for religious or medical reasons, hats or headgear should not be worn. Tracksuits, windbreakers, etc. should never be worn.

4.9.5 In some events, such as the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the organizers provide a uniform for match officials which should be worn during the event.

Umpire call Review by drawing a rectangular gesture
Umpire call Review by drawing a rectangular gesture


5.1 The referee has the final decision on the acceptability of playing conditions but it is usually the umpire who is first aware of possible deficiencies, especially those that arise once an event has started. The umpire must, therefore, know the requirements of the relevant laws and regulations so that he or she can report promptly to the referee any variation that is not within his or her power to correct.

5.2 The playing space and the level of lighting will normally have been checked when the playing hall is set up and the tables and nets will have been properly installed. The umpire should, however, satisfy himself or herself before play begins that nothing has happened to disturb the conditions of play, such as failure of a light source, displacement of a table or the surrounds or loss of tension in the net assembly.

5.3 Whenever possible, the umpire should try to correct any deficiency himself or herself but if he or she cannot do so without holding up play, he or she should report promptly to the referee. The referee may defer the match until the proper playing conditions have been restored or may transfer the match to another table but, if the shortcomings are only slight, he or she and the players may agree to ignore it and play the match in less than ideal conditions.

5.4 Match officials have a responsibility to see that the advertising regulations are observed. The number, size and colouring of advertisements on equipment and fittings in and around the playing area should be checked by the referee, in time for any necessary corrections to be made before play starts. During the competition, umpires should ensure compliance with the restrictions on advertisements on players’ clothing and numbers.

5.5 It is important for the umpire or assistant umpire to check the net. When checking the net ensure that the clamp is attached as close as possible to the table and make sure that there is no cord hanging down from the net post which could affect the ball or distract the players. Then check both the tension of the net-cord and the height of the net. This should be done prior to every match, including individual matches within a team match. It is not really satisfactory just to estimate the tension by touch and several manufacturers have produced weighted net gauges, which ensure consistency. These gauges, which weigh exactly 100g, have two steps, one at 15.25 cm and the other 1cm lower. However, the weighted gauge should only be used to check the tension – it should not be used for checking the height. The lower step of the weighted gauge is rested on the top of the net, in the centre, and the tension adjusted until the bottom of the gauge just touches the playing surface. After the tension has been checked, the height is then checked at each end using a plastic net gauge.

Do not use the plastic gauge and weighted gauge at the same time.

Umpire is acounting 1 minute with his chronometer for the time out
Umpire is acounting 1 minute with his chronometer for the time out


6.1 Type

6.1.1 It is the umpire’s duty to ensure that the ball used for each match is of the brand and colour specified for the competition and it is not permissible for a ball of a different kind to be used, even if both players or pairs prefer it. Any attempt by a player to substitute an alternative ball for the one supplied may be regarded as unfair behaviour, to be dealt with under the appropriate regulations.

6.2 Choice

6.2.1 Players are not allowed to select balls in the playing area but, wherever possible, they should be given the opportunity to do so before they come to the match table. The match will be played with the ball chosen by the players. If the match ball has not been agreed by both players before the match, the umpire will take at random one of the first preferred match balls by either player. If a ball has not been chosen before players come to the playing area, the match is played with a ball taken at random by the umpire from a box of those specified for the competition.

6.2.2 The same procedure is followed if a ball is damaged or lost during a match and has to be replaced. If this happens, the players may be allowed a short period of practice with the new ball but it must be made clear to them that this is simply to enable them to get used to its characteristics and that there is no question of their being allowed to test it and possibly ask for an alternative. The “multi-ball” system means that the assistant umpire has a certain number of balls and delivers the next ball to the player, between points during the match, and at the start of each game, and the players do not need to pick up the ball from the floor or retrieve it from the back of the playing area (the net balls can be replayed). Prior to each match, the players are free to select 20 balls (10 balls per player) or more from the approved balls for the tournament. The box containing the selected balls remains on the assistant umpire’s desk during the entire match. The assistant umpire immediately throws the next ball to the serving player for each point, except when the player has picked it up. Once the point has been determined and the ball is out of play, the ball persons run on the short side of the playing area from one corner to the other collecting the ball from the floor. The balls picked up from the playing area are deposited in containers at each corner. All collected balls are usually deposited in the assistant umpire’s desk box between games.

Umpire keep the score correct so the player and the audience can follow the match
Umpire keep the score correct so the player and the audience can follow the match


7.1 Coverings

7.1.1 A striking surface of the racket must be covered with one of the specified materials and, whether covered or not, one side must be red and the other black. The covering should extend to the limits of, but not beyond, the blade, but some tolerance may be allowed. The referee must decide what is acceptable and advise his or her umpires accordingly but, as a guide,  2mm would be an acceptable margin to most referees. This may particularly be the case with Para class 1 and 2 players as they often use their racket hand to push themselves back up into a sitting position after striking the ball, and, in doing so, touch the table top with their rackets. Thus, an overhang can help to protect the tabletop and a slightly larger margin may be allowed.

7.1.2 In competitions played under international regulations, the covering must be of a type authorised by ITTF. Coverings authorised in this way carry the ITTF logo, the ITTF number (when present), and the supplier’s logo or trademark, and players are required to attach the rubber to the blade so that these identifying features are clearly visible near the handle of the striking surface so that they can be checked by the umpire.

7.1.3 The umpire must check the racket covering against a list of currently approved racket coverings. The presence of the ITTF marking is required but is not proof that the covering is currently authorised. The ITTF web site has a list of currently approved racket coverings (LARC).

7.1.4 Although only materials that comply with current laws and regulations are authorised, it cannot be assumed that a covering marked as authorised will automatically be legal. The original sponge layer may have been replaced by one of greater thickness and gluing can cause the layer to swell, so the thickness of the covering should always be checked. The covering must be used as it has been authorised by ITTF and is not allowed to be treated in any way, either by physical, chemical or other treatment that could modify the playing properties, such as friction, colour, surface, etc., and shall successfully pass all parameters of the racket control tests.

7.1.5 One of the most difficult decisions for an umpire or referee to make is the glossiness allowable for racket coverings. Although this can be measured with an EEL glossometer, such equipment is not usually available at a competition and some more practical means must be found. As a guide, a racket covering can be considered too glossy if letters can be clearly distinguished when, say, a net gauge is placed at an angle to the racket surface. However, the umpire will only be required to check the glossiness if he or she receives a complaint from the opposing player.

Umpire and assistant umpire is checking the player's racket and measuring the net height
Umpire and assistant umpire is checking the player’s racket and measuring the net height

7.2 Adhesives

7.2.1 Coverings may be attached to racket blades only by means of pressure-sensitive adhesive sheets or liquid adhesives that do not contain harmful solvents. Organisers are required to provide a properly ventilated gluing area and players must not use liquid glues or the associated solvents anywhere else in the playing hall, including changing rooms and practice and spectator areas.

7.2.2 Glues containing harmful volatile compounds are no longer approved by ITTF. ITTF has informed all players to cease using glues containing volatile compounds and any player using such glues will be doing so at his or her own risk. ITTF has implemented a zero tolerance racket testing program and protocol, using mini RAE instruments, to ensure that all rackets used by players are free of volatile compounds. Adhesives containing volatile organic solvents cannot be used at the playing venue.

7.2.3 In major competitions, a racket control centre is established and rackets are tested for the presence of banned solvents, thickness, flatness, etc., normally before the matches.

7.2.4 A racket that does not pass a pre-match test, will be confiscated and the player will have to use a different racket; if there is no time to test the replacement before the match it will be tested afterwards. A racket that is found satisfactory will be marked and given to the umpire in a paper envelope (or bag if envelope is not available) for issue at the match table.

7.2.5 If a racket fails a post-match test, the offending player will be liable to penalties as detailed in Referee Directives regarding Racket Control, which are available on the ITTF website.

7.2.6 All players are entitled to have their rackets tested voluntarily without any penalties before the match. Full details of Racket Control can be found on the URC page of the ITTF web site.

7.3 Inspection

7.3.1 The umpire should inspect the rackets that players intend to use, if possible before arriving at the playing area, but before they start their pre-match practice, to avoid unnecessary delay at the start of the match. This is normally done in the Call Area before the match, and the rackets are kept in a paper envelope with the umpire for bringing into the playing area. This, and any subsequent inspection necessary because a damaged racket has to be replaced, should be done with as little fuss as possible. Opponents must always be given the opportunity to examine any racket that is to be used.

7.3.2 If the umpire considers that a racket is illegal, he or she should explain why to the player. Even where this is a question of fact, such as an over-thick covering, the player may not accept the ruling. In such a situation, the matter must be reported to the referee, whose decision will be final. Similarly, if an opponent objects to a racket, which the umpire considers acceptable, the referee must decide whether the objection is justified.

7.3.3 A player is not allowed to change a racket during a match unless it is accidentally damaged so badly that it cannot be used. If it is discovered that a player has changed an undamaged racket the umpire should immediately suspend play and report to the referee, who may disqualify the player.

7.3.4 Players must leave their rackets on the table during the intervals between games and other authorized intervals and must not remove them without the specific agreement of the umpire. If, with the agreement of the umpire, a player removes his or her racket during an interval for any reason, the umpire and the opponent must be given the opportunity to inspect the racket, or its replacement, before the next game starts. The only exception to this is a disabled player whose racket is strapped to his or her hand.

7.4 Damage

7.4.1 A racket that is legal when a player starts to use it may become damaged to an extent that invalidates its legality by, perhaps, destroying the continuity of the covering or the uniformity of pimples over a significant part of the surface. If a player wishes to continue with a damaged racket, and the umpire has any doubt about its continuing legality, he or she should immediately report to the referee.

7.4.2 In deciding whether to allow further use of a damaged racket, the referee should consider
primarily the interests of the opponent. The ball is likely to rebound unpredictably from a damaged surface and this could cause difficulties for both players, although the player who wishes to use the racket has implicitly accepted this risk. Therefore, unless the damage is trivial, it is generally better for the racket to be replaced.


8.1 Colour

8.1.1 The main colour of clothing must be clearly different from that of the ball in use, but the “main” colour does not necessarily mean the colour occupying the greatest area. A solid patch of colour on the front of a shirt that covers only 40% of the area may still be the dominant colour, whereas a much larger percentage of the same colour evenly dispersed could be relatively unnoticeable. The purpose of this clause is to ensure visibility of the ball, and for that reason the colour of the back of the shirt can be disregarded (however refer to 8.1.6).

8.1.2 It is the apparent colour of the clothing, which is important, and the referee has to decide whether it provides sufficient contrast with the colour of the ball. Predominantly yellow clothing may be quite acceptable with an orange ball and patterned clothing having a white background may be satisfactory with a white ball, provided the perceived colours of clothing and ball are clearly different.

8.1.3 There are no specific restrictions on the colour or size of badges, but they must comply with the normal requirements for the colour and design of clothing. On the back of the shirt players may wear lettering identifying themselves or their Associations or, in club matches, their club, and in this case white or any colour may be used; such lettering must not obscure any identifying numbers that the organisers require a player to wear.

8.1.4 Opposing players and pairs must wear shirts of different colours. The umpire must resolve any question in this regard before the players start their practice period and, preferably, at the Call Area.

8.1.5 An umpire who considers that the shirts worn by opposing players are not sufficiently different should ask them to decide which of them will change; if they do not accept his or her ruling the matter must be reported to the referee. Where it is decided that one must change and they cannot agree which will do so, the decision must be made by the umpire by lot.

8.1.6 The purpose of this regulation is to help spectators to distinguish between players, and the possible distance of spectators from the playing area must be taken into consideration. Colours which look quite different close-up can appear almost identical when seen from the back row of spectator seats or on TV, and opposing players’ shirts should preferably be of different basic colours and not just different shades of the same colour. In some circumstances, this could also extend to the back of a player’s shirt, especially in TV matches, where it is important that players are easily distinguishable. If a player has to change a shirt for any reason during a match the new shirt does not have to be the same colour as the one being changed, but still has to comply with the above clauses.

8.2 Design

8.2.1 Clothing may be of any design provided it does not bear symbols or lettering that might cause offence or otherwise bring the game into disrepute. The referee is responsible for determining what is and what is not acceptable for such reasons, but examples of markings that would be precluded are obscene pictures or lettering and political slogans or messages in any language.

8.2.2 In a World, Olympic or Paralympic Title Competition, players of the same Association must be dressed uniformly, with the possible exception of socks, shoes, and the number, size, colour and design of advertisements on clothing (noting that no advertisements are allowed in Olympic and Paralympic competitions except for the clothing manufacturer). In other events, different coloured clothing for doubles pairs is allowed.

8.3 Advertisements

8.3.1 Shirts, shorts or skirts may carry advertisements in addition to the logo or trademark of the maker of the garment, although advertisements for certain types of products are precluded, such as tobacco goods, alcoholic drinks, harmful drugs or illegal products. These advertisements are limited in size and number but may otherwise be of any design, provided that they are not so conspicuous or brightly reflecting as to unsight an opponent, and that they do not include offensive wording or symbols.

8.4 Legality

8.4.1 Usually the umpire first has the opportunity to consider whether players’ clothing complies with the relevant regulations. If he or she is sure that it is illegal, he or she should explain why to the player and, if the player accepts his or her decision and modifies or replaces the garment with one that is legal, no further action is needed. Only where the umpire is uncertain or the player does not accept the umpire’s decision would the referee be consulted.

8.4.2 It is often a matter of judgment whether clothing complies with the regulations and the referee’s decision is final on any question of legality.

8.4.3 Although it is reasonable to expect umpires to report any doubts about the legality of clothing, the referee should check for himself or herself, by looking round the playing hall from time to time, that there are no obvious failures to meet the required standards. This should be done as early as possible in a competition, as it is difficult to justify banning a garment, which has been accepted without question in several previous matches.

8.4.4 In making decisions about the legality of clothing and other playing equipment, the referee must be consistent, both among players at the same competition and, as far as practicable, with the standards applied at other similar competitions. Where he or she is uncertain, he or she may be able to make a comparison with similar garments that have been accepted previously and conform to a more widely used standard.

8.4.5 The regulations define “normal clothing” but do not specifically preclude the wearing of such items as headgear and “cycling shorts”, and the referee must decide in each case what he or she will allow, taking into account presentation of the sport. Headgear worn for religious reasons and headbands to prevent long hair from obscuring a player’s view are clearly acceptable, but most referees would not allow the wearing of, for example, reversed baseball caps.

8.4.6 Some players wear cycling shorts, usually under normal shorts, as a means of keeping muscles warm, and this practice is generally accepted. It is recommended, however, that where such shorts are worn they should be of the same color as the normal shorts and, in any case, they must not carry any advertisements or other markings.

8.4.7 If a player protests that he or she is being unsighted by brightly reflecting jewelry or other items worn by an opponent the umpire should ask for the offending items to be covered or removed. If this request is refused, the matter must be reported to the referee, whether or not the umpire supports the protest. The fact that the item has been worn in previous matches is irrelevant, and each case must be decided on its merits.

8.5 Track Suits

8.5.1 A player may not normally wear any part of a tracksuit during play but, in some circumstances, the referee may give permission for him or her to do so. Examples of such circumstances are extreme cold in the playing hall, with the consequent risk of muscle strain, or a leg disability or injury that the player prefers to keep covered. If a tracksuit is worn in play, it must comply with the requirements for playing clothes. A player with a physical disability, in either a wheelchair or standing, may wear the trousers portion of a tracksuit during play, but jeans are not permitted.

8.6 Changing

8.6.1 If a player needs to change a playing garment because it is torn or wet through perspiration, in many cultures it is acceptable for male players to change shirts on the field of play, but outside the playing area. However, for some cultures or religions, this is unacceptable behavior, and, in almost all cultures, it is not acceptable for females. In those circumstances, he or she may be allowed to leave the playing area to do so during any authorized interval in play, accompanied by an official. This should be done as quickly as possible, but it is accepted that it may take slightly longer than the statutory interval. The referee may give permission on each occasion or as a general dispensation to umpires before play begins, and this should be covered in the briefing to the umpires and also to team managers. Female players should always be allowed to leave the field of play to change clothing.


9.1 The laws governing play are preceded by a set of definitions. The main purpose of these definitions is to explain the significance of the main technical terms used in the laws, which may be different from the normal meaning of the words, but it should not be overlooked that they can often help also in the interpretation of laws to cover circumstances that are not dealt with specifically.

9.2 For instance, the definition of “to strike” the ball is “to touch it with the racket, held in the hand, or the racket hand below the wrist”. From this it follows that a player who drops his or her racket during a rally but attempts to return the ball by hitting it with the hand in which he or she had been holding the racket cannot make a good return, because he or she is not “striking” the ball according to the definition.

9.3 For the same reason he or she cannot make a good return by throwing his or her racket at the ball, because the racket does not “strike” the ball if it is not held in the racket hand at the moment of impact. However, a player may transfer his or her racket from one hand to the other during play and strike the ball with the racket held alternately in either hand, because the hand holding the racket is automatically the “racket hand”.

9.4 It is essential to understand when the ball is considered as being “in play” because it is only during this time that a point, other than a penalty point, can be scored. The ball is in play from the last instant at which it is stationary on the palm of the server’s free hand before being intentionally projected in service, and until the server has taken this action this instant is not defined.

9.5 Thus if the ball accidentally rolls off the server’s hand before he or she starts to throw it his or her opponent does not score a point, because the ball was not in play. For the same reason a player may place the ball on his or her free hand and hold it stationary but then change his or her mind about the type of service he or she will make and move to another position to do so. Provided he or she has made no attempt to throw the ball, no point is scored.

9.6 Once the ball is in play it remains in play until the rally has been decided as a let or point. The ball does not go out of play simply because it goes outside the playing area or above the level of the lights without touching them, but it does do so if it passes over a player’s court or beyond his or her end line without touching his or her court since last being struck by his or her opponent.

9.7 The intention of “obstruction” is that a player will be penalized under this law only if he or she intercepts the ball in a way that is likely to prevent an opponent making a good return. There is no obstruction if the interception occurs when the ball has passed beyond his or her end line, has passed outward over the sideline or is otherwise moving away from the playing surface.


10.1 Consistency

10.1.1 Consistent application of the service law always presents difficulties, perhaps because it has become so complicated, and there is sometimes a tendency for umpires to pay most attention to the aspects that they find easiest to check. To offset this tendency, the umpire should keep in mind the purpose of the various requirements and try to ensure that they are applied in a way that meets their objectives.

10.2 Free Hand

10.2.1 The requirement for the server’s free hand to be open is intended to ensure that the ball is not gripped in any way, so that the player cannot impart spin to the ball as he or she throws it. In applying the law, the umpire should be less concerned with details such as the precise curvature of the server’s free hand than with satisfying himself or herself that the ball is resting freely on the server’s palm.

10.2.2 To help ensure that the ball can be seen resting freely on the palm it is required to be stationary above the level of the playing surface. The free hand may not be held stationary, dropped below the table surface and then brought upwards with a continuous sweep of the arm to throw the ball; if the hand is not brought to rest again above the level of the playing surface the service is illegal.

10.2.3 The ball, but not necessarily the whole of the free hand, must also be behind the server’s end line from the start of service until it is projected upwards. Thus, a player may begin service with his or her arm and part of his or her free hand over the playing surface without being penalised, provided the ball itself is clearly behind the end line.

"Not High Enough" gesture from umpire
“Not High Enough” gesture from umpire

10.3 Throwing the Ball

10.3.1 The server is required to throw the ball “near vertically” upwards and it must rise at least 16 cm after leaving his or her hand. This means it must rise within a few degrees of the vertical, rather than within the angle of 45degree that was formerly specified, and that it must rise far enough for the umpire to be sure that it is thrown upwards and not sideways or diagonally. In Diagram services B and C are acceptable, whilst A and D are not. The height of the toss is also a factor in determining whether the toss is near vertical. In Diagram, the ball is projected from, and struck at, the same place, but service A is a fault, whilst B is acceptable.

Throwing the ball in table tennis - which one is allowed
Throwing the ball in table tennis – which one is allowed

10.3.2 The lower limit of 16 cm is just greater than the height of the net, which provides a convenient reference.

10.4 Striking the Ball

10.4.1 The ball must not be struck until it is falling from the highest point in its trajectory. At the moment of contact with the racket, the ball must be above the level of the playing surface and behind the end line.

10.5 Visibility

10.5.1 The primary requirement of the current service law is for the server to ensure that the receiver can see the ball throughout the service, and the umpire or assistant umpire must be satisfied that this is the case. The umpire or assistant umpire should look to see that the ball is not hidden from the receiver at any stage by any part of the body, or anything he or she or his or her doubles partner is wearing or carrying, and that the server’s free arm, which includes the free hand, is not in the space between the ball and the net, once the ball has been projected upwards.

10.5.2 The ball must be above the level of the playing surface at the start of service. There is, however, no specific requirement for the receiver to be able to see the racket throughout service, and the server may quite legitimately begin service with the racket concealed, for example, behind his or her back. 10.5.3 From their positions in line with the net, especially in case of one umpire per table in the qualification stage, it may be impractical for the umpire and/or the assistant umpire to judge whether the ball is struck illegally if it is struck close to the end line or beside a player’s body. It is, however, the responsibility of the player to serve so that the correctness of his or her service action can be seen and if he or she serves near the margins of illegality, he or she runs the risk of being penalized.

hidden serve is the most common illegal serve in table tennis
hidden serve is the most common illegal serve in table tennis

10.6 Warning

10.6.1 An umpire or assistant umpire, who suspects, but is not sure, that a player’s service action is illegal, may call a let and warn the player without awarding a point. Either the umpire or assistant umpire can issue a service warning (see Appendix D for appropriate hand signals). Only one warning may be given during a match. If any of his or her, or his or her doubles partner’s, subsequent services in that match is of doubtful legality, for the same or for any other reason, a point will be awarded to his or her opponent. A yellow card should not be used for a service warning.

10.6.2 Whether or not a formal warning is given there is no objection to a player whose service action is only marginally acceptable being advised informally, between rallies, by either the umpire or assistant umpire, that any deterioration could make it illegal. Contrary to popular belief, a player is not entitled to a warning for a first illegal service, and a clear failure to meet the requirements of the service law should always be penalised by the award of a point.
10.6.3 The umpire or assistant umpire has no power to ignore an infringement of the service law because he or she does not believe that it gives the server any advantage and there is no justification for overlooking a first offence in the hope that it was a temporary lapse. The offence may be repeated at a critical stage of the match, and a player penalised then could justly protest that he or she had been given no earlier indication that the action was illegal.

10.6 Exceptions

10.7.1 The umpire may relax the requirements for a correct service if he or she is satisfied that compliance is prevented by a physical disability. This will always be done for Class 1 and Class 2 players (refer Appendix H). The player’s international classification card contains a section indicating any physical limitations that the player may have affecting compliance with the requirements of a correct service e.g. where a player with a disability is either not able to straighten his or her palm or does not have a hand, the player may serve with a curved palm or toss the ball from his or her stump.

11 A LET

11.1 Purpose

11.1.1 The primary purpose of a let is to end a rally without awarding a point when something has happened which may affect the result of the rally, but there are other occasions on which it is necessary to temporarily suspend play. Such occasions may include the correction of errors in the score, the serving order or the ends at which the players are playing and the introduction of the expedite system when the time limit is reached.

11.2 Net Cord Service

11.2.1 The most common reason for a let is that the ball touches the net assembly while passing over it in service. Provided the service is good up to the point at which the ball touches the net, the rally is a let if the ball then touches correctly the receiver’s court or if it is obstructed by the receiving player or pair; if it does not touch the correct court at all and is not obstructed, the receiver scores a point.

11.2.2 When the ball touches the net during service, the umpire and assistant umpire wait until the ball touches the correct court and then make the appropriate call, rather than introduce an additional signal before the rally is over that may interfere with play. (See Appendix E – Recommended Hand Signals and Calls).

11.2.3 If either the umpire or the assistant umpire believes that the ball in service touches the net the rally is a let. Even if there is only a suspicion that the ball touches the net in an otherwise good service it is better to declare a let than to allow play to continue, because there is a risk that one or more players may have the same suspicion and, as a result, will be unable to give full attention to the course of play.

11.2.4 A player who believes that the ball touched the net in an otherwise good service may sometimes raise his or her arm or catch the ball and ask the umpire to declare a let. Unless the umpire is certain that it did not he or she will usually concur, especially if the server agrees with his or her opponent, but he or she should make clear that he or she is under no obligation to do so and that the player should continue playing if the umpire does not declare a let.

11.3 Interruptions

11.3.1 Another common reason for a let is a disturbance that may affect the outcome of the rally, such as a ball from another table coming into the playing area or a sudden noise that is sufficiently loud to startle the players. Here again, it is better to declare a let immediately if there is a risk of an interruption than to wait until the rally has ended and then to decide whether or not the disturbance was significant.

11.3.2 A let should not normally be declared for occurrences due to hazards that were present at the start of a rally. For example, a player who fails to make a good return because he or she collides with his or her doubles partner, or trips over a surround is not entitled to the benefit of a let, but one may be allowed if the incident disturbs the conditions of play in a way which could be disadvantageous to an opponent.

11.4 Unreadiness 11.4.1 The umpire may declare a let if the receiver or his or her partner is not ready, provided the receiver makes no attempt to return the ball. However, the fact that the receiver makes no stroke does not itself justify a let and the umpire must decide whether the receiver was really unready or, perhaps, merely unwilling to try to return what appeared to be a difficult service. Players should be encouraged to show when they are unready by raising a hand.

11.5 Wheelchair Play

11.5.1 If the receiver is in a wheelchair due to a physical disability, the rally is a let if the ball comes to rest on the receiver’s court, or after touching the receiver’s court returns in the direction of the net, or, in singles, leaves the receiver’s court after touching it by either of the sidelines.

This is because a player in a wheelchair, by definition, is restricted in the extent of his or her ability to stretch and a service returning towards the net or going out from the sidelines is regarded as unfair. The ball can cross the sideline after one or more bounces. However, in singles play and where the ball is travelling towards the sideline, if the receiver strikes the ball before it crosses a sideline or takes a second bounce on his or her side of the playing surface, the service is considered good and no let is called.


12.1 Decision

12.1.1 Each rally that is not a let results in the award of a point and the laws specify the various reasons for which a point is scored. The decisive stage of a rally is usually that at which the ball goes out of play and the umpire should beware of making a decision based on what he or she expects to happen, without allowing for the possibility that the rally may be ended in some quite different way that may invalidate his or her decision.

12.1.2 For instance, the ball may be returned by a player, well wide of the table, so that it is clear that it will not touch the opponent’s court; but the rally does not end until the ball goes out of play and either player may still win the point. If, in these circumstances, the opponent moves the playing surface while the ball is in play, it is the player who struck the wide return who wins the point, even though the return was unlikely to be good. The rule regarding moving the playing surface is more than 50 years old, and comes from a time where we had no rollaway tables; nowadays tables have hinges and a light push or even stamping on the floor can move the playing surface. Because of this, most umpires do not apply the rule strictly and it would be impossible to play wheelchair table tennis if “moving the playing surface” was enforced. Only lifting, permanent shifting or displacement, or intentional shaking the tabletop should result in the awarding of a point.

12.1.3 Not all points are scored for reasons directly related to play, such as the failure to make a good service or a good return. For example, if while making a potentially winning hit a player accidentally touches the playing surface with his or her free hand or moves the table while the ball is in play, his or her opponent will score a point, whether or not he or she is likely to be able to make a good return.

12.1.4 The umpire must never award points for reasons that are not supported by the laws, perhaps because he or she considers that one player “deserves” a point or that another should be penalised for an unfair action. The umpire should always be able to justify any decision he or she makes by reference to a law and it is for this reason that he or she should study carefully and understand all of the reasons for which a point may be scored.

12.1.5 Some infringements of the laws or regulations do not automatically stop play and the umpire may have to do so by calling the score. In some cases, it will be obvious to the players why the rally has ended; where it is not obvious the umpire or assistant umpire should be ready to explain the reason for his or her decision. He or she may be able to do so by means of signs or by using one of the standard terms of explanation (18.4.2).

12.1.6 A player who is in a wheelchair due a physical disability and who does not maintain a contact with the seat or cushion with the rear side of at least one of the thighs just before striking the ball is considered to be gaining an unfair advantage and the opponent is awarded a point.

12.1.7 If a player is in a wheelchair due to a physical disability, he or she may only touch the table with his or her racket hand to restore balance, only after a shot has been played, provided the playing surface does not move. The player is not allowed to use the table as an extra support before striking the ball. Similarly, the player may not use his or her free hand on the table as an extra support, or touch the playing surface at any time during the rally. In a doubles match this applies to both players.

12.2 Edge Balls

12.2.1 It is necessary to decide whether a ball that touches the edge of the table makes contact on or below the playing surface, and the path of the ball before and after it touches the table can help the umpire or assistant umpire to arrive at the correct decision. If the ball first passed over the playing surface the return is good, but if it touched while it is still rising from below the level of the playing surface it almost certainly touched the side.

12.2.2 The main difficulty arises when a ball arrives from outside, and above the level of, the playing surface, and here the best guide is the direction of the ball after contact with the table. There is no infallible guide but, if, after touching the edge, the ball travels upwards, it is reasonable to assume that it touched the playing surface but, if it continues downwards, it is more likely to have touched the side.

12.2.3 The assistant umpire is solely responsible for edge ball decisions at the side of the table nearest to him or her. If he or she believes that the ball touched the side he or she should call “side”, and the umpire must award a point to the opponent(s) of the last striker. Only the umpire can decide on edge balls at the ends and at the side nearest to him or her.

Edge ball is confimed by TTR Hawk Eye - Succesful
Edge ball is confirmed by TTR Hawk Eye – Succesful

12.3 Doubt

12.3.1 An umpire who is certain that he or she has made a correct decision should not change it simply because the players think he or she is wrong, but he or she may appear officious if he or she insists on maintaining a decision with which both players or pairs strongly disagree. There is also a risk that the player who benefited from the decision may then deliberately fail to make a good service or return, and this will diminish the umpire’s authority.

12.3.2 A decision should never be reconsidered solely at the request of the player who would benefit from a change, even if his or her opponent offers no objection, and a request for reconsideration should be ignored once another rally has started. Exceptionally, where both players or pairs are sure that a decision is wrong and the umpire can accept that he or she may have been mistaken, he or she would be wise to accept the correction.

12.3.3 When there is a genuine doubt in the mind of the umpire, he or she should give the benefit of the doubt to the player who may have committed an offence, provided he or she is certain that an opponent has not been adversely affected. If, however, there is a risk that a player’s attention has been distracted during the play because he or she too suspected that his or her opponent infringed a law or regulation but was not penalized, the rally should be declared a let.


13.1 Time-out

13.1.1 In addition to the statutory intervals between games, each player or pair, or their captain or adviser on their behalf, is entitled to one time-out period of up to 1 minute during an individual match. Making a T-sign with the hands indicates the request, which can be made only between rallies after the start of the game. In the unlikely event of one player requesting a time-out and the other player also requesting a time-out before play has resumed this is allowed. The intention of the rule is that requests for a time-out may be made in the period between successive rallies in a game.

13.1.2 On receiving the request, the umpire should suspend play and hold up a white card, calling “Time Out” and raising the arm above the head, on the side of the player or pair making the request. The assistant umpire should then place a special signboard (or white marker) on the court of the player or pair making the request, approximately 15 cm from the end of the table and on the center line, and according to the Referee briefing. After placing the special signboard (or white marker) and before removing it from the table, the assistant umpire shall stand beside his or her table. Play is resumed when this player or pair is ready to do so, or at the end of 1 minute, whichever is the sooner. The special signboard (or white marker) should then be removed from the table and a white marker be placed near the score indicator, next to the score of the player or pair who requested the time-out. If an umpire is working without an assistant, he or she should show the white card, and, if it can be done easily, place a special signboard (or white marker) on the court of the player or pair making the request.

TV Camera and the table in table tennis
TV Camera and the table in table tennis

13.1.3 If a captain/adviser and a player/pair disagree whether a time-out is to be taken, the captain has the final decision in a team match and the player/pair in an individual match.

13.1.4 If both players/pairs ask for a time-out at the same time, the time allowed is still up to 1 minute but they need not return earlier unless both players/pairs are ready to resume. Neither player/pair is entitled to another time-out in that individual match.

13.2 Time-wasting

13.2.1 The requirement is for play to be continuous throughout a match, apart from authorised intervals, but if, for example, the ball goes outside the playing area, clearly play cannot continue until it is returned. The intent of the regulation is to prevent deliberate time-wasting, such as by repeated bouncing of the ball, long pauses before serving and prolonged discussions with a doubles partner, which should be firmly discouraged. 13.2.2 Players may practice for up to 2 minutes, but as soon as they have finished they should start play, even if the practice period has lasted for less than 2 minutes.

13.3 Towelling

13.3.1 It is the duty of the umpire to ensure that any interruptions are as short as is practicable and that players do not take advantage of any concessions to gain extra rest periods or disturb the rhythm of an opponent’s play. The pace of modern table tennis, especially when played in warm conditions, makes occasional breaks for towelling necessary but such breaks are now limited to specified stages of play.

13.3.2 Players are entitled to brief breaks for towelling after every 6 points from the start of a game, and at the change of ends in the last possible game of a match. Spectacle wearers can have particular problems, especially in hot conditions, and the umpire may allow them short breaks for cleaning between any rallies.

13.3.3 The purpose of the restriction on towelling is to prevent it being used as a delaying tactic, either to gain extra rest time or to disturb the rhythm of an opponent’s game. There is no reason why players may not towel at times which do not further interrupt the continuity of play, such as when the ball is being retrieved from outside the playing area, but care must be taken that players do not deliberately cause such breaks.

13.4 Damaged Equipment

13.4.1 Another possible reason for an interruption of play is damage to playing equipment. No interval can be allowed for a player to fetch a new racket if the one he or she is using is damaged, because he or she is required to be able to replace it in the playing area. If he or she is unable to replace a racket immediately, call the referee.

13.4.2 Replacement of a damaged ball should not be allowed to hold up play unduly, but players should be allowed a few practice strokes with the new ball before resuming play.

13.4.3 The failure of a light or other serious disturbance of the playing area that could cause delay should be reported immediately to the referee, who may transfer the match to another table if one is available.

13.5 Injury

13.5.1 If, owing to accident or illness, a player is unable to continue the umpire must report immediately to the referee. The referee may authorise an emergency suspension of play for the player to receive treatment or to recover by resting, provided he or she is satisfied that the break in continuity will not unfairly affect an opponent and that the player will be able to resume play within a reasonably short time. The timekeeper should time the suspension from the time when the referee is called, not from the time he or she arrives at the playing area.

13.5.2 No interval can be allowed where the disability is due to illness or unfitness that was present or to be expected at the start of the match, or to effects such as exhaustion resulting from the way in which play has proceeded. If an interval is granted, it should be as short as possible and not longer than 10 minutes, but if anyone in the playing area is bleeding, play must not be resumed until all traces of blood have been removed.

13.5.3 Once a player has been granted an interval for recovery from injury, normally he or she should be allowed no further such interval during that match. Exceptionally, where the first interval was very short, another brief interval may be allowed for treatment provided that it is not likely to be prejudicial to the opponent and that the total period for which play is suspended during the match does not exceed 10 minutes.

13.5.4 If a player with a disability is unable to play temporarily due to the nature of his/her disability or condition, the referee may, after consulting a medical classifier or doctor at the competition, allow a medical recovery time of the shortest practical duration, but in no circumstances more than 10 minutes.

Xu Xin has the shoulder injury
Xu Xin has the shoulder injury

13.6 Leaving Playing Area

13.6.1 Players must normally remain in or near the playing area throughout an individual match, except with the permission of the referee; during intervals between games and time-outs they shall remain within 3 metres of the playing area under the supervision of the umpire.

13.7 Rest Periods

13.7.1 Players should not be allowed to extend the intervals between games and should be called back if they have not returned at due time. Each interval is limited to 1 minute and if players do not take all the time available to them at one interval, they may not claim extra time at the next. It is not necessary for the players or pairs to agree on taking a rest period, which must be allowed if any player wishes to take one.


14.1 Choice

14.1.1 At the start of a match, the choice of serving, receiving and ends is decided by lot, usually by tossing a coin or disc having two distinct sides. The player who wins the right to choose
first may decide to serve or to receive first or to start playing at a particular end of the table. If he or she decides to serve or receive first his or her opponent has the right to choose an end and vice versa, so that both players have a choice to make.

14.1.2 In each game of a doubles match, the pair due to serve first may choose which of them will serve first and in the first game the opposing pair must then decide which of them will receive first. In subsequent games, the striking order is defined by the initial order, which reverses for each game. When first one pair scores 5 points in the last possible game of a match, the receiving pair must change their order of receiving.

14.1.3 In a doubles match between A, B and X, Y, the only two possible orders of striking are A-X-B-Y-A- and A-Y-B-X-A-, but the sequence may start with any player, depending on the choices made at the start of each game. The umpire should note the striking order at the start of the match and of the first server in each game, so that any errors can be corrected by reference to the appropriate starting point. Between games, it is best to wait until both pairs have returned to the table before asking which player is to serve.

14.1.4 When a doubles pair comprises two players who are in wheelchairs due to a physical disability, the server first makes a service and the receiver makes a return, but thereafter either player of the disabled pair may make a return. However if any part of a player’s wheelchair protrudes beyond the imaginary extension of the centre line of the table, the umpire will award a point to the opposing pair. This also applies when a “mixed” pair (one standing and one wheelchair) are playing together. Either player may return the ball (after initial service and return), but each player has to remain in his or her own half of the court. No part of the player’s wheelchair can cross the imaginary extension of the centre line and the standing player cannot put a foot over this line either.

14.2 Errors

14.2.1 The correction of errors in striking order or ends is based on two principles. First, as soon as the error is discovered play is stopped and is resumed with the correct order or ends; second, any points that have been scored while the error persisted count as though it had not occurred. If an error is noticed during a rally, the umpire should immediately declare a let, and not wait until the ball is next out of play.

14.2.2 The score that has been reached usually determines who should be serving and receiving but if, in doubles, the pair who should have served first in a game did not do so, the umpire cannot know which of them would have served first. If this happens, he or she should ask them immediately who would have been their first server, and he or she can then calculate the order in which play will resume.


15.1 Principle

15.1.1 The expedite system is the method provided by the laws to prevent unduly long games, which may result from negative play by both players or pairs. Unless 18 points in total have been scored, it is introduced automatically after 10 minutes’ play in a game or at any earlier time at the request of both players or pairs.

15.1.2 Under the expedite system the serving player or pair has 13 strokes including the service stroke in which to win the point. If the receiving player or pair safely makes 13 good returns, the receiving player or pair wins the point. The game is won, as in normal play, by the player or pair first scoring 11 points or, if the score reaches 10-10, by the player or pair first establishing a lead of 2 points.

15.1.3 The serving order throughout each game is the same as for a normal game, but service changes after each point instead of after every 2 points. At the start of each game the first server, and in doubles the first receiver, is determined by the order established at the start of the match, even though the same players may have been serving and receiving at the conclusion of the preceding game.

15.2 Procedure

15.2.1 When the time limit is reached, unless 18 points have been scored, the timekeeper should call “Time” loudly. The umpire should then declare a let if necessary and tell the players that the remainder of the match will be conducted under the expedite system. If the ball is in play when the time limit is reached, the next server is the player who served for that rally; if it is not in play, the next server is the player who received in the preceding rally.

15.2.2 Thereafter, in each rally the stroke counter is required to count aloud the return strokes of the receiving player or pair, including the return of service, from “one” to “thirteen”. The call should be made immediately after the receiver has struck the ball and not delayed until the return has been judged good or the ball has gone out of play. If the 13th return is good, the umpire should call “stop” and award a point to the receiver.


16.1 Players may receive advice at any time except during rallies provided that continuity of play is not affected. Whilst there is no longer any specific regulation regarding advice between the end of practice and the start of play, this is to be actively discouraged at it would delay the start of the match.

16.2 In a team event, he or she may receive advice from anyone authorised to be at the playing area, but in an individual event, he or she may receive advice from only one person, who must be nominated to the umpire before the match. Where a doubles pair consists of players from different Associations, each may nominate an adviser. These advisers are treated as a single unit for the purposes of the advice regulations. A single warning applies to both, and if either of the pair gives advice illegally after either has been warned, both should be sent away from the playing area.

16.3 When anyone tries to give advice illegally the umpire should first warn him or her by holding up a yellow card so that it is clearly visible to everyone concerned, but there is no need for him or her to leave his or her chair to do so. In a team match, such a warning applies to everyone on the “team bench”. If in that team match anyone again gives advice illegally, the umpire should hold up a red card and send that person away from the playing area. Another adviser cannot replace an adviser who is sent away from the playing area for giving advice illegally.

16.4 A dismissed adviser must go far enough away to ensure that he or she cannot influence play. In an individual event, he or she may not return until the match ends; in a team event, he or she may not return until the end of the team match except to play, when he or she may return only for the duration of his or her individual match. If he or she refuses to leave, gives advice from spectator seats, or returns before he or she is entitled to do so the umpire should suspend play and report to the referee.

16.5 The “behaviour” regulations include provision for use of the penalty point system to control advice given illegally, but its application should be limited to situations where it is clear that it is the player who is seeking advice. It would be unfair to penalise a player for simply receiving advice that he or she has not sought and may not want and in most cases it is better to deal directly with the illegal adviser. 16.6 The assistant umpire may often be in a better position than the umpire to see that advice is being given illegally during play. If advice is given illegally the assistant umpire should immediately draw this to the umpire’s attention, interrupting play if necessary by calling “stop” and raising his or her hand. The umpire should then take any appropriate action.

table tennis coach is very important
table tennis coach is very important


17.1 Responsibility of the Umpire

17.1.1 Deliberately unfair or offensive behaviour is not common in table tennis and is usually limited to a small minority of players and coaches, but its effects may be very damaging and it is often difficult to control. Because misbehaviour can take many forms, it is impractical to lay down precise rules and setting and applying acceptable standards of conduct is more a matter of judgment and common sense than of factual decision.

17.1.2 The umpire should be ready to respond immediately to any sign that bad behaviour by a player or coach is likely to be unfair to an opponent, to offend spectators or to bring discredit to the sport. If he or she tolerates early lapses in good behaviour, however trivial, without even a disapproving glance he or she will find it much harder to impose proper discipline if these lapses later become more persistent or serious.

17.1.3 The umpire should, however, avoid over-reaction to possibly unintentional instances of unseemly behaviour, for this could lead to resentment and animosity that will undermine his or her authority. When he or she takes action, he or she should always try to do so in a way that does not make the situation worse, either by drawing undue attention to an incident that may not have been generally noticed or by appearing to victimise a player or coach.

17.1.4 An example of behaviour, which might justify action by the umpire, is shouting during play, in annoyance or elation, but in deciding how to react the umpire should take account of the environment in which it occurs. If the general noise level is so high that the player’s shouting is hardly noticeable, it is more sensible not to stop play but to wait until the end of the rally before speaking to the offending player.

17.1.5 Another example of bad behaviour is gross disrespect of match officials by players or coaches, usually to demonstrate disagreement with a decision. This may take the form of persistent protest, alteration of the score indicators or even threats against the officials. Such behaviour detracts from the presentation of the sport and from the authority of the match officials, and must be strongly resisted.

17.1.6 When misbehaviour occurs, the umpire has to decide whether the offence is so serious that he or she must suspend play and report immediately to the referee. Although this option is always available and should be used when appropriate, it should rarely be necessary on the first occasion and in most circumstances the initial action should be to give the offender a warning.

17.1.7 The assistant umpire may often be in a better position than the umpire to see misbehaviour. If this occurs, the assistant umpire should immediately draw this to the umpire’s attention, interrupting play if necessary by calling “stop” and raising his or her hand. The umpire should then take any appropriate action.

Umpire is announcing who has won the point
Umpire is announcing who has won the point

17.2 Warning

17.2.1 Unless the incident is so seriously unfair or objectionable that formal action cannot be avoided, a quiet informal word of warning or even a warning signal should be sufficient to make the offender aware that such behaviour is unacceptable. Wherever possible, this should be done without interrupting play, taking advantage of the next natural break such as the end of the rally or the end of the game.

17.2.2 When, however, the umpire believes that an opponent may have been adversely affected or that the behaviour is likely to offend spectators or otherwise to be detrimental to the sport he or she should immediately declare a let and formally warn the offender, by holding up a yellow card, that further misbehaviour will incur penalties.

17.2.3 When a formal warning has been given, a yellow marker should be placed near the score indicator, next to the score of the player who has been warned. Similarly, if a player has had a penalty point awarded against him or her, both a yellow and red marker should be placed near the score indicator, if space permits. If both the umpire and assistant umpire are using score indicators then the cards should be placed on both the umpires’ indicator. These warnings apply for the remainder of the individual match or, in a team event, the remainder of the team match, and subsequent offences will incur penalty points.

17.2.4 It should be remembered that, once a formal warning has been given, subsequent offences must automatically be penalised by the award of points. The umpire should not be afraid to use this procedure when it is justified, but if a formal warning is given too readily, he or she may find that he or she has to penalise a player at a critical stage of a match for an offence that, to many people, may appear trivial.

17.3 Penalties

17.3.1 If a player who has been formally warned commits a further offence in the same match the umpire should award 1 penalty point to his or her opponent and for a third offence he or she should award 2 points, each time holding up a yellow and a red card together to show the action he or she has taken. Should misbehaviour continue after the umpire has imposed these penalties he or she should suspend play immediately and report to the referee.

17.3.2 When the umpire awards a penalty point the referee should be advised as soon as practicable, but without delaying play, to enable the referee, if he or she wishes, to come to the playing area so that he or she will be readily available in case of any further trouble. If the referee or his or her deputy is not in a position to see the display of cards it may be possible to use another pre-arranged signal or to send a messenger.

17.3.3 Penalty points may sometimes be awarded after a game has ended, or 2 penalty points might be awarded against a player when his or her opponent needs only 1 point to win the game. If the match has not ended any “unused” points are transferred to the next game of that individual match, so that it starts at the score of 0-1 or 0-2 in favour of the offender’s opponent (but, if the match has ended, they should be ignored). In this case, the server is the one who should have been serving at that score according to the sequence established at the beginning of the match.

17.3.4 In a team match, warnings and penalties are carried over to subsequent individual matches. A doubles pair is regarded as having incurred the higher of any warnings or penalties incurred by either of the players; thus if one has been warned in a previous match and the other had incurred 1 penalty point, a first offence by either of them in the doubles match would incur 2 penalty points. A warning or penalty during a doubles match applies to the pair during that match, but only the offending player will carry it over to a subsequent individual match. The following examples illustrate this point:

In a team match with 4 singles and 1 doubles matches, players A & B are paired to play the doubles match. In their first singles matches in this team match, A was warned and B incurred a penalty point. In the second game of the doubles match A intentionally breaks the ball by stepping on it. The umpire awards 2 penalty points against A/B. In their next singles matches, each player carries forward a yellow/red card – i.e. they each have 2 misbehaviour offenses. Both players of a doubles pair (A and B) have misbehaved immediately following the loss of a game (one player threw the racket, the second one shouted bad words).Yellow card to player A and yellow/red to player B. It makes no difference whether it is in the same moment or a little bit later. A warning or penalty incurred by either player of a doubles pair shall apply to the pair. In the next individual match of this team match each player starts with a yellow card. The next game of that individual match starts at the score of 0-1 or 1-0 in favour of the offender’s opponent. Cards carry forward but penalty points do not.

17.3.5 In a team match, it is necessary to record warnings and penalties so that they can be transferred to later matches, but it is advisable to do so also in individual events. This will allow the referee to take account of persistent bad behaviour when deciding, for example, whether to disqualify a player. The record can conveniently be a note on the scoresheet, stating who was warned or penalised and at what stage of the match, with a brief description of the offence. This recording of warnings should also be applied to coaches for similar reasons.

17.3.6 It is clearly impracticable to award penalty points against a coach, and it would be unfair to award them against a player on whose behalf he or she may be protesting. If, after a formal warning, a coach continues to misbehave he or she should be shown a red card and sent away from the playing area until the end of the match or, in a team event, of the team match; where this action is taken the incident should be reported to the referee.

fault serve - don't hide with your head or shoulder
fault serve – don’t hide with your head or shoulder

17.4 Responsibility of the Referee

17.4.1 The referee may disqualify a player from a match, an event or a whole competition, depending on the gravity of the offence. This is a matter for his or her judgment, but, when a player is reported for continuing to misbehave after the award of 2 penalty points, the referee would normally disqualify him or her, holding up a red card. In very serious cases, he or she would also make a formal report to the player’s parent Association.

17.4.2 Usually, the referee learns of instances of bad behaviour from the umpire, but he or she may sometimes be able to see them and to take action before the umpire has invoked his or her attention. He or she can also anticipate possible problems by, for example, watching at least part of any match involving a player who has previously been warned or penalised for bad behaviour, to make sure that such behaviour does not continue.

17.4.3 Even where there has been no previous incident it may be obvious from the reaction of spectators that one or more of the players in a match is/are misbehaving. By watching the match the referee may find that the umpire is no longer in control of play and in this situation he or she should take action on his or her own initiative, either by telling the umpire what he or she must do or by dealing directly with the offending player.


18.1 Score Calling

18.1.1 The umpire should call the score clearly, taking care that the tone of his or her voice does not suggest partiality towards one player or pair; he or she may place a slight emphasis on the number of points that has changed as a result of the rally. If he or she is using a microphone he or she may need to adjust his or her speaking level, and/or the position of the microphone, and he or she should remember that it may well cause remarks that were not intended for the public to be generally audible.

18.1.2 The score should normally be called as soon as the rally has been decided and the umpire should not wait until he or she judges that the players are ready to resume play. However, if there is loud applause or a player is retrieving the ball from the back of the playing area he or she may prefer to delay his or her call slightly until he or she is satisfied that both players or pairs will be able to hear it.

18.1.3 The umpire should call first the number of points scored by the player or pair due to serve next, then the number of points scored by the opposing player or pair. At a change of service, he or she should point to the next server. This may be followed by the name of the next server. Whether or not to name the server should be covered at the referee’s briefing, with the main aim being that all umpires at an event act consistently. If it is not covered at the referee’s briefing, it is recommended not to call the server’s name at each change of service. At the start of a game, the server’s name should be announced first.

18.1.4 Whilst it is optional for the umpire to use the players’ names, he or she should be sure how to pronounce players’ names correctly. The umpire should verify correct pronunciation before the match is started.

18.1.5 When each player or pair has scored, say, 4 points the score may be called either as “4-4” or “4-all”; the score 0 may be expressed as either “zero” or “love”. At the start of a game, the umpire should announce “Smith to serve”, “Love all” or “Zero-Zero”, to avoid the risk of players starting before the call is complete. If the rally is a let, the umpire should repeat the existing score, to confirm that no point has been scored.

18.1.6 In a team match the name of the Association may be used instead of, or as well as, the player’s name. It is, however, a requirement to point to the next server. Thus in a team match between France and Poland, the opening announcement could be “Kinski of Poland to serve, 0-0”. During an individual game the score might be called as “6-4, France” and the announcement after an individual match could be “Game to Poland 11-6, Poland wins by 3 games to 0; Poland leads by 1 match to 0”.

18.1.7 In an international competition both the score and, when the expedite system is in operation, the number of strokes must normally be called in English, but a different language may be used by agreement between the umpire and both players or pairs. Other announcements should be made in English unless it is clear that another language is more acceptable to spectators.

18.1.8 See Appendix F for Field of Play Procedures.

18.2 Signals

18.2.1 In addition to calling the score, it is recommended that the umpire use hand signals to indicate certain decisions, especially where the noise level makes it difficult for a score call to be heard. Even if the umpire delays his or her call to allow for a burst of applause to subside or a player to return from retrieving the ball, a prompt signal will allow score indicators to be updated without having to wait for the score to be announced.

18.2.2 The umpire must point with his or her hand to the next server at a change of service. He or she may also indicate the award of a point by raising the arm nearer to the player or pair who won it, so that the upper arm is horizontal and the forearm is vertical, with the closed hand upward. If he or she declares a let or wishes to delay the resumption of play he or she should raise one hand above his or her head, and the assistant umpire should use the same signal to attract the umpire’s attention when he or she makes a decision within his or her jurisdiction. Hand signals should be clear and positive but they must not be unnecessarily flamboyant or aggressive.

18.2.3 See Appendix E for examples of correct hand signals and recommended calls by the umpire and assistant umpire during match situations. The judgement on illegal services is one of the most challenging situations of table tennis officiating because there are so many kinds of illegal service actions that cannot be expressed by a single hand signal. Both umpire and assistant umpire are recommended to use these hand signals to allow not only players but also coaches and spectators to understand the situation better. The umpire or assistant umpire will first show the hand signal for the illegal service. If the player questions or asks for clarification, the umpire or assistant umpire will verbally communicate using the simple term e.g. not high enough or below the playing surface.

Hidden serve hand signal from the ITTF umpire
Hidden serve hand signal from the ITTF umpire

18.3 Time Keeping

18.3.1 The timekeeper must time the practice period, intervals between games and any authorised suspension of play. During a game, the timer should be stopped during significant breaks in play and re-started as soon as the next rally begins. Examples of such breaks are pauses for towelling, the change of ends in the last possible game of a match and delays while the ball is being retrieved from outside the playing area. Retrieving the ball while still in the playing area is not a reason to stop the timer.

18.4 Explanations

18.4.1 It is not usually necessary to have to explain umpiring decisions, and gratuitous announcements should be avoided. For example, if a player serves the ball into the net, he or she has clearly not made a good service and there is no need to call “fault”. If, however, the rally is decided in a way that does not automatically end play or which may not be obvious a brief explanation may be given, using standard hand signals and/or the standard terms listed below.

18.4.2 The recommended explanatory terms are,

service not good “fault”

net touched by player, clothing or racket “touched net”

playing surface moved “moved table”

free hand touched playing surface “hand on table”

ball obstructed by player “obstruction”

ball touched same court twice “double bounce”

ball deliberately struck twice by same player “double hit”

ball struck by wrong player in doubles “wrong player”

in doubles service, ball touched wrong half-court “wrong side”

18.4.3 A fuller explanation should be given if necessary – for instance, where a service has been ruled illegal and the player is not sure which of the requirements he or she failed to meet. Language problems can often be overcome by the use of signs, such as pointing to the edge of the playing surface if a player has not noticed that the ball touched it, or demonstrating an aspect of service action that has been penalised (See Appendix E).


19.1 The score is usually displayed on one or more score indicators. The correct use of score indicators is an important element in the presentation of a match and the umpire should make sure that the officials operating them are aware of their duties. Operators must await the umpire’s call or signal before changing the score and must never anticipate decisions that they do not have the authority to make.

19.2 Most score indicators have two sets of large numbers to show the points scores and two smaller sets of numbers for the games scores. These indicators can provide a great deal of useful information, provided they are used consistently. Before a match the games score indicators should be left blank and not set to 0-0 (see Appendix A) until both players or pairs arrive in the playing area, as a guide to whoever is controlling the programme of play.

19.3 Before a game starts the points score indicators should be blank, and should not show “0-0”; this score should be displayed only when the umpire calls it to announce the start of the game. At the end of a game, the indicators should be left showing the final points score until just before the start of the next game, for the benefit of spectators, before being returned to the blank position.

19.4 In no circumstances should the result of a game be shown simultaneously on the points and games score indicators. The games score should not be changed until the final points score in that game is reset so that, for example, until shortly before the start of the 4th game of a match the indicators may show a games score of 1 to each player and a point’s score of 11-7, but not 2-1 and 11-7.

19.5 Score indicators are normally placed in front of the umpire or assistant umpire, or both, facing towards the players, and in this position it is often difficult for spectators seated at the ends of the playing area to see them. The operator may rotate it by up to 45o to his or her left and/or right at suitable intervals during play, such as at a break for towelling or when retrieving the ball from the rear of the playing area, or at change of service. Provided the score indicator is reasonably light, and the operator feels it is necessary to do so, the operator may also raise the score indicator whilst rotating it. 19.6 Most mechanical score indicators can display points scores up to about 20 and rarely will the score in a game exceed this figure. If this stage is reached it is suggested to revert to 10-10, a score at which the alternation of service is expected. However if there are electronic scoreboards also in use, or the manual score indicator doesn’t stop at 20 (e.g. 25), it is better to revert to 0-0 (or 5-5 if the scoreboard stops at 25) to avoid confusion For example, if the score is shown as 21-20 on the electronic scoreboard (or 26-25 on a manual scoreboard which goes to 25) it is better to show 1-0 (or 6-5) on the manual indicator rather than 11-10.

19.7 See Appendix A for examples of the correct use of score indicators.

If the score is 7-9 then it's the critical moment to win
If the score is 7-9 then it’s the critical moment to win


20.1 Whether working alone or as part of a team, the work of match officials can be difficult and demanding. They must be fair but not indulgent, firm but not officious and confident without being obtrusive. For most people these qualities are acquired only through experience, but it is hoped that the guidance given in this booklet will be of assistance to all those seeking to improve their competence as match officials.

©PINGSUNDAY. Unauthorized use, translation or duplication of this material is strictly prohibited. Link and excerpt may be used, provided that clear credit is given to PingSunday with the specific link to the original content.

Sign up and join +65k readers. Get free coaching ebooks and coaching advice every week

Table tennis coach in France since 2012, founder of pingsunday.com (the best online coaching program for table tennis players). Born in Vietnam in 1983, Ph.D. in Université Pierre Marie Curie. Read more about him.

Leave a Comment