KOCHI:Beside the tables in Prakash Padukone Plaza is a room with an unremarkable sign that reads ‘Racket Control’. The room, mostly deserted, comes to life mainly before competitions, as a racquet controller inspects the paddle for anything that might give its owner undue advantage.
Placing the racquet on table, the controller quantifies the thickness, flatness and the presence of volatile chemicals. “It’s the first time in our country that NGOC has procured the Mini RAE Lite equipment for racquet control. Earlier, the Table Tennis Federation of India used to borrow the machine from the international body,” said R Rajesh, a qualified racquet controller and international referee, who played for Kerala.
He deconstructs a racquet, pointing at the sponge and rubber layers on the wooden body. “The most common issue when it comes to racquet tampering is how players add extra layers of gum to add millimeters to the rubber exoskeleton. The extra padding helps attain greater speed. A regulation has been put forth by the table tennis federation stipulating that the thickness should not exceed 4 mm,” Rajesh said.
Before matches, players hand their racquets to the referee, who gives it to racquet control, if it arouses suspicion. If found so, the player is disqualified. The controller then moves on to testing the flatness of the paddle.
“Some players apply gum layers only on the centre of the paddle, to escape getting caught in the thickness test. The flatness apparatus readings must therefore within -5 mm for a convex surface and 2 mm for a concave one,” Rajesh added. Mini RAE Lite is the biggest equipment among the three, where a suction cup is placed over the racquet and the air is tested for volatile chemicals. Some chemicals, when mixed with rubber, offer extra bounce. “The equipment is highly sensitive. The cup is placed over the paddle for a few seconds and regulations dictate the reading should be limited to 3 ppm,” revealed Rajesh.
“It was brought in primarily as a health measure, as the presence of such chemicals would emanate poisonous fumes which could be lethal. One such incident was recorded in an international circuit in 2010, where a player fainted and died after a match after inhaling fumes,” he said.