The International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) has nearly doubled the size of its Challenge Series as part of a significant overhaul of the second-tier competition.
The 2019 Challenge Series will feature an additional nine events comprising 17 in total, with at least one to be held on every continent. Among the 17 hosts are nine cities that have never staged a Challenge Series event in the past.
For the first time, the Challenge Series will also be split into two tiers, with the top tier to be known as Challenge Plus and offer more prize money, world ranking points, better playing conditions and enhanced TV production.
North Korea (Pyongyang) has been awarded a Challenge Plus event alongside Oman (Muscat), Portugal (Lisbon), Nigeria (Lagos), Paraguay (Asuncion) and Canada (Markham). New hosts on the second tier will be Mexico, Morocco, Turkey, Serbia and Indonesia, while Spain, Slovenia, Croatia, Thailand, Poland and Belarus have all retained their Challenge Series host status.
ITTF chief executive Steve Dainton said: “The increased amount of ITTF Challenge Series events shows the increased interested in organising table tennis events and the proven success of the change of our world ranking at the start of 2018. These 17 events added to our 13 ITTF World Tour events means that we have 30 tour events in 2019, which provides our players with immense value and fits in with the ITTF’s strategy of having a fully professionally run global tour by 2021.”
The Challenge Series sits below the premier World Tour and seeks to provide players with opportunities and experience to make the step up to the top tier.