By Shashin Shodhan  | Fremont Table Tennis Academy | Blog


Get ready for sports without fans. Why does China love table-tennis when the US has little interest? Is it because Chinese people are born with different interests than Americans? Why is cricket almost a religion in India and many countries clueless to its existence? Why do many countries love baseball and many countries don’t care for it at all? Why have sports like basketball exploded in popularity? Why has golf exploded in popularity? 


If professional sports resume and are allowed to play without fans, I think there will be a lot less excitement in watching sports. Fans and the media build-up make the sport exciting. I’m a big NBA fan and love watching the Warriors and the Splash Brothers (Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson) play and shoot three pointers. However if I didn’t know how good they were, didn’t understand what a three pointer was, and didn’t understand the rules of basketball, I’m not sure if it would be exciting. If there were not 20,000 fans “oohing” and “aaahing” for every shot to go in but in an empty stadium like we will see you soon, I think basketball and all sports will lose spectator appeal. 


My spark for table-tennis started when I was living in India at age 5. I saw my Dad’s trophy and high-quality paddle and got all excited. That spark stayed with me throughout my life. Since age 6, I’m lived in the US spending the bulk of my childhood in the US following mainstream American sports. If it wasn’t for spark at age 5, who knows how different my life would be? I likely would not have had my passion for table-tennis if wasn’t for that brief incident. Because of that spark, I normally love watching table-tennis but saw a match recently between World and Olympic champion Zhang Jike against Chinese National Men’s Singles Champion Hou Yingchou without any fans. Hou is a chopper which normally creates excitement and exciting rallies. However, I found the match significantly more boring to watch than matches with fans.

It’s fun to hear the Chinese crowd chant their players names and European fans in packed stadiums during important tournaments like World Championships cheer on certain players.

Fans make or break the excitement of the sport.


Athletic excellence is the ignition and the fans and media play on that. When fans and media give extra importance to certain athletes or certain sports, that athlete and sport become immensely popular and more interesting. In China, there would be a craze to watch Ma Long play as he’s the winner of both 2016 Olympic men’s golds and the last three World men’s singles titles. In the US, hardly anyone outside of table-tennis would care to watch. When Jan-Ove Waldner became Sweden’s only Olympic gold medalist in 1992, he was on the cover of every major Swedish newspaper by himself and has been widely considered the greatest table-tennis player of all-time. The Swedish media gave a lot more importance to him and table-tennis. At his home club, Angby in Stockholm, Sweden, there was an explosion of interest from young kids to play table-tennis. In China, he was also adored by the media and there was a craze to watch him play. In the 1990s in China, more people knew who he was than who US President Bill Clinton was.

Jan-Ove Waldner is arguably the greatest table-tennis player of all-time having won Olympic gold and silver and 6 World Championship golds. Jan-Ove Waldner was voted as one of the top Swedish sportsmen in the entire 20th century by the Swedish media and is the only foreigner to ever have his own stamp in China.


Would people care to watch the top American baseball players in Europe? I doubt it. Soccer has been incredibly popular all over the world and only more recently in the US as a spectator sport. When I was hanging out with the European table-tennis teams I was practicing with when I was younger, they were going crazy over the soccer matches and I couldn’t understand how they could be so interested. Growing up in the 80s and 90s in my childhood in the US, there was hardly any importance to soccer as a spectator sport so I never had any interest in it. It’s the most popular sport in the world by TV viewership with 3.5-4 billion fans but I just never could understand why. It’s not that it doesn’t require an incredible amount of skill, foot speed, and athleticism but just the fans and media never gave much importance to it in the US when I was growing up. I found it boring to watch when Europeans and people throughout the world are crazy about it. I find table-tennis very interesting to watch but I’m sure many people would find it boring to watch. 


When Michael Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships in the 1990s, he was a worldwide phenomenon and couldn’t go anywhere in the world without being recognized and fans in Chicago and everywhere were crazy about him and his team. Without the Bulls atmosphere with unique player introductions and fans going crazy in packed arenas with every playoff run, it would have been boring without fans despite how good Jordan and his team was. The fans and media gave so much importance (and deservedly so) to his athletic excellence, basketball exploded in popularity all over the world. People who had no interest in basketball suddenly became interested.  

During the Jordan era, the NBA expanded from 80 countries to 215 countries.


I never put much thought if golf would have been interesting to play or watch. Maybe others felt the same but when Tiger Woods came on the scene, his athletic excellence caused a worldwide boom in golf in both playing and watching. People who were before disinterested became interested. Even though I’ve never had an interest in golf, I likely would have watched him play if my schedule permitted due to his excellence and thus interest created by media and sports fans. 


Countless Indians in the US wake up in the middle of the night to watch cricket matches. I just could never get interested. In India, it’s basically a religion where the whole country stops to watch if there’s an important cricket match. I just found it boring to watch having spent the bulk of my childhood in the US following American sports. 

In my opinion, it is largely the fans and the media and their excitement for the superstar athletes and teams that make or break the sport. There’s no doubt the athletes have to work hard regardless of sport in order to reach the top. Different sports require varying amounts of skill vs athleticism but every sport has the athletes who have done the 20 hours/week for 10 years (10,000 hours) to become the top in the world. Then it’s up to the fans and media to build up the popularity of that athlete and sport and create the exciting environment to watch. The culture of sports, fan interest, and media we grow up around largely determine our athletic interests. If professional sports are allowed to take place again in the near future without fans, I think all sports will be a lot more boring to watch.