Why Were So Many Fans At The China National Games Women?
The thesis of this blog post is simple and narrow: At the China National Games, among the fans shown on camera, and in particular the fans with fan-gear, a disproportionate number of these fans were female relative to both the general audience and the rest of the table tennis population.
The primary purpose of this post is to hilight this statistical anomaly. There are many plausible innocent explanations for this irregularity. We do not make any assertions about how the China National Games were conducted or how the results in this post should be interpreted.
For the sake of transparency, we freely admit that the investigations made in this post were motivated by our earlier findings on the use of fake crowd noises at the China National Games and a general feeling that something was “off” about the fans shown on camera. However, we found no conclusive evidence to implicate something fishy regarding the fans shown on camera, and we again emphasize that we therefore make no conclusions about them.
However, we believe gender distribution of the fans shown at the China National Games is interesting regardless of one’s prior beliefs about the China National Games. Whether one regards the results presented in this post as suspicious, as a strange coincidence, as a reflection of a unique sociological reality in Chinese table tennis, or as a total nothing burger, we hope that the reader finds this post interesting.
A Quick Detour To Brazil
Let us take a quick detour to Brazil. Table tennis fans in Brazil were ecstatic last week that Hugo Calderano won WTT Star Contender Doha. Check out this video that WTT shared on its Instagram:
A bunch of Brazilian fans pause a local tournament to cheer on Calderano on TV and cheer him on after he wins. We hilight the fact that audience is predominantly male. This is consistent with what many table tennis fans in the West (both male and female fans) have personally experienced: an embarrassingly low number of table tennis fans are female.
Statistically, we would expect a random sample of table tennis fans to be mostly male. However, the fans that the camera panned to in the China National Games are overwhelmingly female.
Which Fans Are We Talking About?
Let us take a general look at the arena from the screenshot below. The arena is loosely divided into an upper-level section and lower-level section. Two of the lower level sections were reserved for players, and the other two were reserved for fans. Based on the Chinese characters shown on the red banner in front of the lower level section, it is sometimes possible to uniquely identify which lower-level section a group of fans were sitting in.
In between exciting the points, the TV broadcast panned to certain fans who were usually sitting in in the lower level and were typically either cheering passionately or wearing custom-made fan gear.
Here is an example of such a pan in the Xu Xin vs Liu Dingshuo match.
We see that in this screenshot that roughly 80% of the fans shown are female. Is this just a cherry-picked example, or part of a broader trend?
Dissecting the Men’s Singles Finals Audience
The camera panned to the audience 19 times in the men’s singles final. One of those times appears to be to the upper-level audience, and the other 18 times were to fans sitting in the lower level. Based on fans present in multiple camera pans and the Chinese characters shown on the red banner hanging from the stands, we can infer that all 18 of these camera pans panned to the same section of fans.
We now form a composite picture of all the fans watching the men’s singles finals. On the furthest left (this time from the point of view of the camera pointing to the fans) is this group of fans:
By our count, roughly 75% out of 25 fans are women. There are seven instances of fan gear among this group of people, and every single one is held by a woman.
To the right of this group of fans is this group of fans. By our count, roughly 65% of the 25 fans shown in the first screenshot are women. There are six instances of fan gear, and every single one is held by a woman.
Moving slightly to the right are the group of fans shown below. From the zoomed out pictures, we see there is slight overlap between this group and the previously seen group.
By our count, among the roughly 35 people that were not shown in the previous groups, a little over 70% were female. We identified at least seven instances of fan gear, and again every single one was held by a woman. Note that we do not count China flags as fan-gear.
On the furthest to the right is this group of fans. By our rough count, around 80% of roughly 30 fans in this picture are women. Again, there are at least seven instances of fan gear, and as far as we could tell every single one was held by a woman.
Let us also take a look at the audience pans from other days of competition. To avoid cherry-picking, we take a screenshot of the first audience that the camera pans to in the following matches (we intentionally picked four featured matches that were played on four separate days): Fan Zhendong vs Ma Long team final, women’s singles final, Xu Xin vs Liu Dingshuo men’s singles quarter-final, and Xu Xin vs Zhou Yu round of 16. In all four matches, the audience is overwhelmingly female, and all the fan gear is held by a woman.
For the sake of completeness, we also include a screenshot of the camera’s lone pan to the upper-level audience in the men’s singles finals. In contrast to the lower-level audience, this audience was roughly 60% male and only had two instances of fan gear. However, similar to the lower-level audience, both of the fans holding the fan-gear were women.
What gives? Across 18 camera pans, roughly 70% of around 120 fans shown on camera in the men’s singles final were women, and virtually every single fan holding fan-gear was a woman. This trend also held on other matches and other days of the tournament.
Even if half of table tennis fans were women (an estimate that is almost certainly too high in most countries), the odds of this happening by random chance is astronomically low. As promised in the introduction, we do not attempt to interpret the reason behind this jarring statistic, and leave it as an exercise for the reader.
This was the second in a two-part series on irregularities in the audience reaction at the China National Games. You can read part one here.
If you are based in the United States, be sure to also check out the $3K ASLT Oktoberfest in San Diego, California on October 22-24.