Nancy Gillen

Ronaldinho is far from Brazil here in Budapest, with the Hungarian capital's snow-topped gothic buildings a stark contrast to the tropical warmth of the footballer's home country.

Despite this, Ronaldinho received a fabulous welcome from the crowd at the Teqball World Championships, swarmed by young autograph hunters and journalists alike as he made his entrance. The attention did not wane throughout the day, with the 39-year-old delivering a press conference to a packed room of media and fans. 

It is testament to Ronaldinho's glittering career that he remains such a global icon, despite it being nearly 20 years since he was an integral part of the Brazilian team that won the 2002 FIFA World Cup. His name was really made during his five-year stint at Barcelona, having set La Liga alight with electrifying performances that were deserving of his Ballon D’Or award in 2005.

Since then he is rightly regarded as one of the greatest football players of all time, and the attention he receives is in recognition of that.  

What a coup for the International Teqball Federation (FITEQ) then, that Ronaldinho agreed to be an ambassador for the up-and-coming sport. 

Other prominent names also have the same role, such as Luis Figo of Portugal, Carlos Puyol of Spain and William Gallas of France, but it is Ronaldinho that is the real crowd-draw.

His involvement, it is claimed, stems from his genuine love of teqball, but it is also a demonstration of FITEQ's unique approach to promoting the sport. It is evolving in a way that is almost the reverse of how most sports grow in popularity.

Many start from the bottom up, with more and more people playing it until it becomes well-established. At this point, the star athletes are developed, becoming points of interest for fans and media. Teqball, on the other hand, have brought the stars in straight away, and used them to attract attention and publicity.

They are also able to tap into one of the most popular sports in the world, which of course helps a lot. Imagine if table tennis was only invented now, and the likes of Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray were brought in to promote it. Seems silly, but that is almost what is happening here.  

Brazilian football legend Ronaldinho drew the crowds at the Teqball World Championships ©FITEQ
Brazilian football legend Ronaldinho drew the crowds at the Teqball World Championships ©FITEQ

It is an interesting method, and one that seems to be working. The media have turned out in droves here, ranging from the conventional to slighty left-field outlets such as Copa 90. Would they be present if a legend such as Ronaldinho was not? It is doubtful.

Teqball co-inventor Viktor Huszár agreed with the importance of big names in football showing their support. 

"Without them, the exposure would have been much slower, obviously," he said.

"It's very important that they feel part of building the history of the sport. 

"It's like a family for us that is coming together.

"We feel that the way we are doing events is also a standard for other sports and federations, and that you can have a situation where everyone is happy."

Even if the footballing stars are the ones bringing the crowds in, once here, there is something addictive about the game played on what seems likes a curved table tennis table. Teqball is fast-paced and entertaining and just looks like a lot of fun to play.

Having shared clips of the action on my Instagram Story, it also received rave reviews from my friends as they inquired about the sport. It does seem like something people will watch and genuinely enjoy.

Another positive is the level of inclusivity that teqball boasts. There is no real gender division, something of a rarity in the world of sport. Women play against men in the singles and doubles, while the mixed doubles ensure that both genders are literally on an equal playing field.

Teqball is an extremely inclusive game, with men and women often pitted against eachother ©FITEQ
Teqball is an extremely inclusive game, with men and women often pitted against eachother ©FITEQ

With teqball based on technicality rather than physicality, the female athletes more than hold their own.

Whether it remains like this as the sport grows, or splits into individual competitions for men and women, is yet to be seen. It is a unique aspect of the sport, however, and is of great value.

Age is also not an issue in teqball. One of the members of the Israeli team is just nine-years-old, while a 50-year-old is competing for Italy. That sort of age range cannot be found in many other sports.

Perhaps to make it fully inclusive, a Para-version of the game needs to be devised, but it still stands that teqball can be played by nearly anyone.

This will be an essential feature as teqball looks to make a mark on the already saturated world of sport using its unique top down approach. With the stars already backing it, it is now down to the general public to pick up the sport. 

FITEQ will be working on this next, according to Huszár.

"We will start to have more and more National Federations, but the the most important thing is the grass-root level," he said.

"We support the establishment of clubs, education, refereeing and coaching." 

If FITEQ succeed at this stage, they could go on to take the sporting world by storm.