King ping pong gone

BAD news: Rio Ferdinand has been forced to pull out of a celebrity table tennis tournament at the Albert Hall. Now we may never know if he is truly the king of ping pong.

The Manchester United defender claimed a couple of months ago that he was the best table tennis player in the Premier League. And that claim was set to be put to the test this evening.

Ferdinand had been due to take part in a celebrity challenge in London, scheduled as a prelude to the real thing: the Dunlop Masters, which will feature the world’s best table tennis players and give a good indication as to who will do well at the Olympics in Beijing later this year.

But anyone heading to the Albert Hall hoping to find out once and for all whether Ferdinand is better at table tennis than Glenn Hoddle will be disappointed. Hoddle will be there – along with John Barnes, former Olympic triple jump champion Jonathan Edwards and Reading midfielder James Harper. But Ferdinand can’t make it, because he’s got to play for Manchester United against Bolton on Wednesday night. Boo.

“The management won’t allow me to come down because we have games Saturday and Wednesday and obviously training every day in between,” he said in The Times today. “I’m gutted because I like a game of TT and was hoping to come and put a few people in their places.”

Even without Ferdinand, tonight’s table tennis spectacular will still be worth a visit – and it’s for a good cause, too. Profits from the Dunlop Masters will go to TTK, the table tennis initiative of the Greenhouse Schools Project, a charity that provides sports coaching to youngsters from socially deprived backgrounds.

But I can’t help but feel that Rio’s claim to be the top man of table tennis is looking a little shaky after this. And all for another Premier League title medal? Rio, where are your priorities?

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