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Table Tennis Playing Clothing Colours

(What The Requirements Are, And How To Comply)


As to whether a player’s clothing meets the requirements of the Rules is often a point of contention between the referee (and umpire) and the players, coaches and team managers. Perhaps some of the problem arises from the lack of awareness of the requirements of the relevant Rules, but possibly more so from not knowing the interpretation of these Rules.


It is my hope that in addressing this issue by way of stating the Rules and their interpretations, there will be greater awareness and understanding, thus leading to all those responsible for managing the sport being able to meet the requirements with ease. The quicker we can achieve this the better, for we would then have come a long way to presenting the sport as it should be.

The Relevant ITTF Table Tennis Rules

(Highlighted parts are for emphasis only) Playing clothing shall normally consist of a short-sleeved or sleeveless shirt and shorts or skirt or one-part sports outfits, socks and playing shoes; other garments, such as part or all of a track suit, shall not be worn during play except with the permission of the referee. The main colour of a shirt, skirt or shorts, other than sleeves and collar of a shirt shall be clearly different from that of the ball in use. …. if the back of a shirt bears the player’s name, this shall be situated just below the collar. Any numbers required by organisers to identify a player shall have priority over advertisements on the centre part of the back of a shirt; …. Any question of the legality or acceptability of playing clothing shall be decided by the referee. The players of a team taking part in a team match, …. shall be dressed uniformly, with the possible exception of socks, shoes and the number, size, colour and design of advertisements on clothing. Opposing players and pairs shall wear shirts that are of sufficiently different colours to enable them to be easily distinguished by spectators. Where opposing players or teams have a similar shirt and cannot agree which of them will change, the decision shall be made by the umpire by lot.

8.1.1 The main colour of clothing must be clearly different from that of the ball in use, but the “main” colour does not necessarily mean the colour occupying the greatest area. …. The purpose of this clause is to ensure visibility of the ball, and for that reason the colour of the back of the shirt can be disregarded.

8.1.2 It is the apparent colour of the clothing, which is important, and the referee has to decide whether it provides sufficient contrast with the colour of the ball. ….

8.1.4 Opposing players and pairs must wear shirts of clearly different colours. The umpire must resolve any question in this regard ….

8.1.5 An umpire who considers that the shirts worn by opposing players are not sufficiently different should ask them to decide which of them will change; if they do not accept his ruling the matter must be reported to the referee. Where it is decided that one must change and they cannot agree which will do so, the decision must be made by the umpire by lot.

8.1.6 The purpose of this regulation is to help spectators to distinguish between players, and the possible distance of spectators from the playing area must be taken into consideration. Colours which look quite different close-up can appear almost identical when seen from the back row of spectator seats, and opposing players’ shirts should preferably be of different basic colours and not just different shades of the same colour.

8.4.2 It is often a matter of judgment whether clothing complies with the regulations and the referee’s decision is final on any question of legality.
1.5.1 The referee is the final arbiter on any question of rule interpretation arising during the competition for which he or she is appointed, and such decisions cannot be overruled by anyone.
(Handbook for Tournament Referees)

From the above, it is clearly evident that two principal factors are taken into consideration when deciding if the playing clothing meet the requirements of the Rules. These principal factors can be summarized as follows:

i. That the main colour of the clothing (shirt, shorts, skirt) must be clearly different from the colour of the ball so as to ensure visibility of the ball (to the players).

ii. That the colours of the shirts of the opposing players and pairs must be sufficiently different so as to ensure that they can be easily distinguished by the spectators, no matter where they are seated in the playing venue (and where it is a televised match, by the television viewers as well) .


It is recommended that players have two shirts, preferably one dark coloured and the other one light coloured, with one of them being of a warm colour and the other of a cool colour.  


Warm colors are made mostly of red, orange and yellow, whilst cool colours are made mostly of violet, blue and green.

The colour circle can be seen as being divided into a warm half (centered on the orange) and a cool half (centered on the blue). If a warm and a cool colour are placed next to each other the difference between them in terms of warmth or coolness will be more apparent. Putting together areas of orange and blue will therefore result in a contrast of warm against cool as well as a contrast of complementary colours.


The best way to make a colour really stand out is to put it next to another colour that is completely different from it. The differences between the two colours will then be very noticeable and each one will appear to be emphasised. Such pairs of colours are known as ‘complementary colours’.

For colours to be as different as possible from each other they need to have completely different ‘ingredient’ colours. For example the colour that is most different to green is red.


It is hoped that this paper will provide all those involved in table tennis a guideline on the requirements of the Rules with regards to the colours of players’ clothing and offer some assistance in understanding those requirements as well as what to look for when purchasing shirts, shorts and skirts.

Cyril Sen
International Referee

21st October 2008