Whiff-whaff's road home starts in Sheffield
When Boris Johnson "respectfully" told the Chinese that "ping pong was invented on the dining tables of England in the 19th century - and it was called whiff-whaff", I actually felt guilty for not voting for him to be London mayor.
How could I not recognise the genius of a ping pong diplomat who could so succinctly sum up the national character with a reference to our desire to cancel the cheese course, clear the plates away and get the bats out?
But promising to bring a sport home and doing it are two different things. A bit like his "Boris Island" plan, repatriating table tennis is a nice idea but it won't come cheap and Johnson isn't paying.
That obligation falls upon Britain's Olympic bosses and they need a better reason to invest than fine rhetoric or historical sentiment - they want medal potential, which is why they will be looking to Sheffield this week for signs of whiff-whaff life.
The English Open, which runs from Wednesday to Sunday at the South Yorkshire city's English Institute of Sport, is one of three major staging posts for British table tennis on the road to London 2012 (the others being another English Open in January 2011 and an Olympic test event later that year).
Watch Matt Slater's report on the funding crisis that is threatening Britain's hopes of competing in the Olympic table tennis tournament in 2012
Partially funded by UK Sport, the body that dishes out public money to elite sport in this country, the English Open's 65th edition has attracted 13 of the world's top 20 players in both the male and female rankings.
Trading shots with the very best from China, Germany and Korea will be 26 British players, including 23 in the under-21 section. Foremost among those will be the 19-year-old Paul Drinkhall, our brightest prospect since Desmond Douglas in the 1980s.
Drinkhall, an affable and modest lad from Middlesbrough, has just joined the senior tour after a stellar junior career which saw him reach three in the rankings and lose in the final of the world championships. And he has already shown signs that there is more to come, claiming a stunning victory in the under-21 competition at the Chinese Open in June.
That's the good news. The bad news is that British table tennis' current good health is pretty relative - the last decade has not been a good one for those who have followed Johnson's games-obsessed aristos.
Like most minority sports in this country, table tennis needs Olympic (or other major championship) success to initiate the virtuous cycle of sports funding - points mean prizes. Failure has the reverse effect.
With no money to spare the English Table Tennis Association has been unable to stage ping pong's "Wimbledon" for eight years. This means less exposure, which means less money, which means fewer full-time players and coaches, which means less chance of success and so on. It's a horrible downward spiral and the sport should be congratulated for pulling itself out of it.
Unfortunately, table tennis' green shoots came too late to survive the chop in the great British Olympic budget cut of last year.
A failure to raise a hoped-for £100m from the private sector left a hole in Team GB's 2012 war chest. Table tennis was one of eight Olympic sports to see its allocation slashed, going from £2.53m for Beijing to £1.21m for London.
This was a devastating blow for a sport starting to get its act together but hardly surprising when you consider the facts: no British player has qualified for the Olympics since Matthew Syed in 2000, Drinkhall, while very talented and years off his peak, is still outside the top 100 and our last significant victory came at the 1954 world championships when Rosalind Rowe and Diane Scholer-Rowe won the women's doubles.
And that is without mentioning the elephant in the dining room, China.
The hosts took gold, silver and bronze in the men's and women's singles in Beijing and might have done the same if they could have fielded second and third strings in the respective team competitions.
The Asian superpower has won 20 of the 24 available gold medals since table tennis gained Olympic status in 1988 and it has been a similar story at the worlds.
But China's domination of table tennis goes deeper than the medal count. It has been estimated that 200m of the world's 300m table tennis players are Chinese (in comparison, the latest figures claim there are 190,000 regular players in England) and a quick glance at the rankings will illustrate just how deep their talent pool goes.
One consequence of this is the high number of Chinese players now competing under flags of convenience. A British coach told me about a European competitor that had recently held trials for a batch of Chinese juniors, the winners were given new passports within the week.
What's most frustrating about this is British table tennis could have gone down this route as well, achieving better short-term results and earning more funding. The governing body took a more principled view, however, building from the bottom with a young squad of domestic talent. But they've paid for it with reduced rations.
Watch Matt Slater being thrashed by a table tennis robot ahead of the English Open
The implications of this are very serious indeed. Having set up a national table tennis centre in Sheffield, hired additional staff and embarked on a training and competition programme designed for results in 2012 and beyond, the authorities decided to take their UK Sport budget over two years, not four.
This has enabled them to continue what they've been doing for the last couple of years but means the money will run out in 2011. Hardly ideal for bringing ping pong home or helping the government achieve its ambitious 2012 legacy targets of inspiring a generation to play more sport.
Because that is the real missed opportunity here - table tennis is a remarkably accessible sport. It can be played almost anywhere (as Johnson pointed out), is easy to grasp, a lot of fun and perfect for densely populated countries with a shortage of good outdoor space. The same set of reasons that made table tennis so attractive to Chairman Mao are very quietly increasing the numbers playing the sport in this country too.
So there is a lot riding on Drinkhall, Darius Knight and the rest of our young squad in Sheffield this week. They need to be more like Andy Murray and Laura Robson at Wimbledon and less like the rest of the British contingent. An early surrender will only confirm the view that this is not a sport worth investment.
I wish them well for a few different reasons. First, they're a cracking bunch. Second, it is a great sport to play and watch, particularly live. And third, if we are to have any chance of getting a million more people playing more sport after 2012, games we can play on our dining tables are going to be crucial.