Patrick Burke

If it was entertainment that organisers and the International Federation of Teqball (FITEQ) were after from their World Championships in Gliwice, then it certainly delivered on that front. 

On the main table, we watched three of the five finals go the distance to three sets: Hungary's Ádám Blázsovics won back-to-back titles in the men's singles against France's Julien Grondin, while the unranked Brazilian partnership of Rafaella Gomes Fontes and Natalia Guitler beat American top seeds Carolyn Greco and Margi Osmundson in the women's doubles and Serbia's Bogdan Marojevic and Nikola Mitro saw off Apor Györgydeák and Szabolcs Ilyés of Romania to clinch the men's doubles.

Those edge of your seat dramas will have done no harm in widening interest, but for this observer, a dramatic 10 minutes in the women's singles semi-finals perfectly encapsulated the appeal of teqball to a sports enthusiast.

If you'd left the Arena for a bite of late lunch before the matches reached their conclusion, it might have come as some surprise on your return to watch the United States' Carolyn Greco and Brazil's Natalia Guitler playing for bronze in the first match of the Championships on the main table, rather than for gold a little later on. Although, not if you'd have been following insidethegames' live blog of course!

We witnessed every type of shot you can think of on a curved table divided by a transparent net and markings that indicate where players can serve behind and what constitutes an "illegal attack" - essentially taking aim at your opponent's side of the table from inside their half.

We witnessed controversy. I'd imagine the phrase "edge-ball" - the ball clipping an edge of the teq table rather than making full contact, which voids any scoring for that particular play when called by the referee - is not one that Guitler would have been keen to hear again in a hurry after a couple of marginal calls went against her in the semi-final.

We witnessed two stirring comebacks from Hungary's top seed Anna Izsák and Polish home favourite Paulina Łężak, which proved that, while the sport is of course about showing close control to stay in charge of a match and about producing moments of quality when it counts like an emphatic smash or a disguised tap over the net, it's also about resilience and never giving in. A bit of luck helps too.

Brazil against the United States in the women's doubles was one of three finals that went to a third set decider at the Teqball World Championships ©FITEQ
Brazil against the United States in the women's doubles was one of three finals that went to a third set decider at the Teqball World Championships ©FITEQ

On the far table, Guitler took the first set of her semi-final and led Łężak 11-8 in the second - four match points if you prefer. However, all of those instead went to Łężak, who took the semi-final to a decider.

In the third, Guitler was all but there once again. She led 11-6 and looked a certainty to reach the final. However, still she could not get over the line, and there was an alarming sense of déjà vu when the Polish player put together a run of five successive points.

Sometimes in sport things just seem destined to happen. Łężak was down and out not once but twice in the semi-final, but she dragged herself level, wrestled the momentum and, after two further points in the tiebreak, had won the most dramatic match at the tournament 12-10, 11-12, 13-11.

Simultaneously, Izsák had to dig into her deepest reserves of character, coming from a set down to win a third set tiebreak against Greco 10-12, 12-8, 14-12. You might have been forgiven for suggesting the Hungarian player avoided a shock against the sixth-seeded American, but that would do a disservice to one of the stars of the tournament.

The only pity was that both of these matches were not showcased on the main table in front of a big crowd. If teqball continues at its current growth rate, you would anticipate that for future editions of the World Championships more than just the medal matches will go under the spotlight and be streamed live.

Indeed, both semi-finals were testament to the high standard of play on show across all five competitions. On paper, Izsák was comfortably the top-ranked player. She would go on to win gold at the expense of Łężak, but make no mistake, this was a hard-earned triumph, and there was little to separate any of the players that made it to the business end of the tournament.

If you need further proof of the calibre of teqball on display in Gliwice, look no further than France's second seed Amélie Julian, who relied on her status as one of the best third-place finishers to progress through the groups and was then knocked out by Izsák.

Now maybe five months of Rafael Benítez's Everton - or, in fairness, I could go much further back, but that's another blog in itself - has simply made me relish any sporting action with a modicum of entertainment, or given me a new-found sense of appreciation for stars who don't know when they're beaten, or led to me applauding any creative flair on the field of play.

Those things may all be true to an extent, but far more likely, I would argue, is that the Teqball World Championships showcased the sport's credentials to all those present in Gliwice. It's easy to follow and understand, it's played at a fast pace and, as a spectator, it certainly gets you hooked quickly.

But for all the drama on show, there is a deeper message FITEQ is eager to express.

Teqball may be a new concept, with FITEQ only founded in 2017, but it has made no secret of its ambition to feature at the Olympics, ideally from Los Angeles 2028. 

Changes are aloof for the Games in seven years' time. During the Championships, surfing, skateboarding and sport climbing were proposed as core sports on the programme, with approval at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session in February likely to be a formality, while boxing, weightlifting and modern pentathlon were left off the "initial programme".

FITEQ chairman Viktor Huszár told insidethegames: "I think if you ask anyone in the world what are the top non-Olympic youth-driven sports, teqball would probably be the first. I am curious to see how the Olympic Movement will look like in a couple of years."

Robert Pires, a winner of football's FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Championships with France, added that "everything is possible".

This is a "big, big objective" and FITEQ will "need to work hard to reach this dream", according to Pires, but it stands in better stead having completed a successful World Championships, which returned after their absence from last year's calendar due to COVID-19.

Teqball is hopeful of featuring at the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games ©Getty Images
Teqball is hopeful of featuring at the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games ©Getty Images

The International Federation proved it can safely stage an event of this size even during a challenging time globally, with rigorous testing measures in place for participants. Running separate men's and women's categories for the first time at the Championships was also a welcome step, with players previously competing in combined events.

"The introduction of women's singles and doubles categories this year follows the rapid rise of female participation in elite events and our commitment to providing equal opportunity for all," FITEQ's general secretary Marius Vizer Jr explained before the Championships.

"We have grown rapidly by all metrics - the number of National Federations is now 127, the number of clubs is over 3,000 and of course on social media, where we are one of the most-followed sports globally.

"But most importantly, the number of athletes has risen dramatically, and we have more and more teqball players competing internationally each month."

There are of course countries where teqball is still to take off - Britain and Germany were two examples that Pires cited as targets for further development - but you certainly get the impression it has the potential to in the future. 

Across the Atlantic, stars like Greco and Osmundson and the US' Dennis Correia and Luka Pilic are only going to aid the growth of the sport and, with the country preparing to host the Olympics in 2028, their continued success could be crucial to giving teqball a foothold in the US and the Olympic Movement.

"There is a lot of good signs in the US and we believe that if the US team has university contests and more major events, we are going to attract more overseas athletes to join the US competitions as well," Huszár commented.

After the Championships, IOC member Filomena Fortes was unanimously elected to the FITEQ Executive Board at its General Assembly. The Cape Verdean Olympic Committee and Cape Verdean Teqball Federation President should bring further crucial experience and knowhow to the body, and her election represents an important move.

The sport certainly appears to be on the right track. In 2023, the Los Angeles 2028 Organising Committee is set to propose additional sports for the Games. There will be fierce competition, but on the evidence of the World Championships - and with a further seven years of development under its belt - teqball would not look out of place.