The Thai Boonkoom Tipwong flies around the table at the teqball world championship. The teqball player produces the most spectacular bicycle kicks, plucks the ball high out of the air with his foot and slams it hard on the other side of the curved table. After the action, which causes disbelieving facial expressions in the audience, Tipwong lands on his hands and the folded Thai regains his form as a human. Like a push puppet that collapses at the push of a button and springs back again.
The spectacle takes place in the KIA Metropool Arena in Nürnberg at the World Cup. A stark contrast to how the sport started more than ten years ago: in the garage somewhere in Hungary of creator and current CEO of the international federation (FITEQ) Viktor Huszar. “Me and my neighbour wanted to keep playing some football when we retired from our (semi)professional football and futsal career. In our garage we played with a football on a ping pong table. We found out we had to re-invent it, because the ball was too heavy for the table and it kept bouncing all through our garage.”
Huszar, an engineer, and his neighbour started developing an idea for a curved table, with the ends pointing to the ground. That way the ball does not always bounce upwards and the ball is also better played with your feet. “Friends came to our garage to play and asked what the name of the game is. But it had no name! We just called it curvedpingpongtablefootball haha… More and more people came to play and said it can be huge. But we didn't care, we just wanted to play in our garage. As a fun game.”
But when the time was right, the game was taken out of that hidden garage. Countless practice sessions with cameras, calculations with the computer and the development of prototypes later there is the sport teqball (teq an abbreviation and corruption of the word technique). An international association was established in 2017. Wealthy investors were sought and found and the promotional campaign, especially on social media, is running at full speed.
Football players and coaches have discovered it. Lionel Messi has a table at home, coaches like Ronald Koeman introduce it to clubs and associations where he works and former superstar Ronaldinho is an ambassador of the technical game. At professional clubs such as Manchester United and Bayern Munich, teqball is not only played as a leisure activity, but is sometimes also a conscious part of technique training for (youth) players. The tables are custom-made. With logos and colors of the club. The marketing of the sport is clearly visible at the World Cup in Nürnberg. The letter Q is everywhere, in tables, balls and shirts. The striking color orange has been cleverly chosen as the defining color of the sport (in combination with black in the tables and white in the balls), because it stands out everywhere.
Teqball is no longer a silly little garage game. “It's amazing how
it has developed”, says Huszar. “We have 150 federations all over the world. At the World Championships we see different styles: the acrobatic Thai, the samba from Brazil, Serbian solid rock, you
know.” The World Cup has a diverse field of participants from different parts of the world: there are teqers from Spain, Denmark, Poland, but also from Lebanon, Cape Verde and Senegal. Games are
played in singles (men and women) and doubles (including mixed doubles). There are a number of rules: for example the ball may not touch the ground, doubles must pass the ball at least once and
you may not use the same body part twice in the same turn.
The sport brings structure to their event calendar at lightning speed. For example, there are World Series events (foru each year in capital cities) and Challenge Cup tournaments. And some players can be full-time professional, like the Hungarian multiple world champion Adam Blazsowics. “Yes, that works for me. I was a football player, but I noticed that my stamina en endurance was failing me. I discovered teqball and it suited me well. Playing just on technique. I got better and better at it. I now train every day and I also do mental training.” In Nürnberg, the Hungarian surprisingly didn’t reach tot he final. The new king, the world number one, is Apor Györgydeák from Romania.
American women's world champion Carolyn Greco defeated defending champion Anna Izsak in the final and is a semi-pro. “Great to be world champion, I already had other colors of medals, but this one is beautiful! I play with the LA Teqers and combine that with my work as an environmental consultant. It is nice to be able to earn a little extra income with the sport.”
While Tipwong and his compatriots from Thailand continue to entertain the public with techniques they use in their own country in the sport of sepak takraw (foot volley over a higher net), teqball seems to be on its way to an Olympic status. The sport already has a spot at the 2023 European Games in Poland and will likely be featured at the 2027 African Games. “We are really a fast-growing sport,” says Gabor Felegyi, tournament director of the World Cup. “Based on social media followers, we are only behind cricket in the non-Olympic sports. The association has contracts with international television companies to broadcast our sport. We want to be Olympic in 2028, the worst case scenario is that we won't be there until 2032 in Brisbane…”
You can listen to the audio we made of the written story above for Dutch national radio NOS. Aired during the world championships on Saturday night November 26. It's in Dutch, off course...