Photograph by Amal Al Shamsi

It’s Called Table Tennis For a Reason

On the challenges and triumphs of the women's only table tennis team of NYUAD.

Apr 2, 2017

It was the first week of Grade 11 and there I was, trying to maintain my cool under the scrutinizing gaze of ten guys and a pleasantly surprised sports coach.
“Are you here to play table tennis?”
Taking a good look at the four tables around me in a semi-covered outdoor court, the dearth of females not escaping my gaze, I nodded.
“That’s right, I am.”
And so it began, a new chapter of the same old book. I’ve been on the women’s table tennis teams of two different high schools and, this year, I am on the NYU Abu Dhabi inter-collegiate team. The narratives, however, remain unchanged. Everywhere I go, the sport is predominantly male, in a way that other sports, in my experience, are not – in table tennis, either a women’s team simply doesn’t exist or when it does, the conditions are disheartening, to put it mildly. At least, they seem so for someone who has loved this sport for as long as they can remember.
The narrative at NYUAD was a spin-off of the same plot. This year marks the first time the college had a women’s table tennis team compete in the Abu Dhabi Inter-University Sports League. While it was an honor for me to represent my new university in the league, it was simultaneously impossible to dismiss the obvious challenges that we faced. We barely had enough people to make up a team.The numbers dropped as students left Saadiyat for study abroad and other reasons. The pressure of having no reserves weighed down on the remaining two team members — myself and another first year student — strong as ever, forcing us to choose tests and exams over a match one time. This resulted in our only loss of the season. Mid-way through the fall semester, the table tennis coach resigned, and this vacated position was taken over by the team captain, a student from the Class of 2017.
Nonetheless, we continued with our training and matches, the latter always taking place off-campus at the Petroleum Institute. Since these games were organized for women only, no men were allowed to attend, which ruled out all the fellow members of the men’s team, our regular training companions. A key aspect of any sports match is the support and positive energy that comes from a spirited crowd. If the crowd is missing, that same encouragement manifests itself in the cheers of your teammates, which is certainly the case for sports that entail large teams. Unfortunately, table tennis can not be ranked among those sports. Almost all of the time, it was just the three — two this semester — team members sharing a car to the venue, at times accompanied by our team manager who would also serve the dual role of the referee for matches when other teams showed up.
Under such circumstances, the dynamics of the league were uninviting. New logistical issues fused with old ones – for instance, the overshadowing of a sport like table tennis by bigger team sports in ADISL. Regardless, the team persevered, determined to take home the win for this precise reason — and they did, marking the first ever ADISL Championship win for the women’s table tennis team at NYUAD.
There’s a reason why it is, or should be, called table tennis and not ping pong. A simple difference in title marks a huge transition from a casual game in the Baraha to fully-fledged practices in the multipurpose room, from a downtime activity to a serious competition, and more importantly from something you engage in during the 10-minute break between classes to an ADISL sport.
Hafsa Ahmed is a contributing writer. Email her at
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