The Soccer-Inspired Sport Drawing Beckham, Messi and Neymar
Teqball, growing in popularity in the US, is making a play for the Olympics.
(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- Carolyn Greco and Margaret Osmundson are professional athletes who together placed third in the world at a recent competition staged in Anaheim, California, that was streamed globally on ESPN3. Yet many Americans have never heard of their sport: teqball. The two former professional soccer players and a handful of entrepreneurs are trying to change that, one kick at a time.
The Hungarian-born fusion of soccer, pingpong and tennis has been around for about a decade. It’s played on a curved tabletop that is 9.8 feet long and 5.6 feet wide—with the highest point reaching 2.5 feet high—that’s bisected by a solid net. The game is typically played in three-set bouts, and doubles competitions are generally more popular than singles. Players use a slightly underinflated soccer ball. As in soccer, they may hit it with any part of the body but their hands, resulting in movements that somewhat resemble martial arts: Spiral kicks and the fanciest of soccer’s footwork abound. Officials are making a play for teqball to be included in forthcoming Olympic Games, .
Teqball’s most established followings are in Europe—notably France and Hungary—and in Brazil. Many European soccer clubs have sprouted companion teqball teams, and the sport has drawn stars including David Beckham, Lionel Messi and Neymar. Indeed, teqball advocates are counting on soccer’s global fan base of 2 billion people to provide a foundation for the sport.
In the US, teqballa niche following, but it’s enthusiastic. The crowd at the recent tournament in Anaheim was small: A few hundred fans brandished orange inflatable wands and wore “World Is Curved” hoodies, a nod to teqball’s tag line. That’s a far cry from the thousands of soccer fans who pour into the nearby Banc of California or SoFi stadiums or the Crypto.com arena. “It’s a startup in many ways,” says Ajay Nwosu, the chief executive officer and president of Teqball USA—the sport’s commercial marketing arm—and also president of the US National Teqball Federation, a nonprofit founded in 2020 that’s focused on developing the sport.
There are about 1,000 professional teqball players and 500,000 amateurs in the country, according to USA Teqball, a privately held company that stages tournaments.
The mere existence of teqball reflects the ever-fracturing sports landscape. While a handful of sports used to dominate TV contracts, press and radio airwaves, die-hard fans of curling or college football can now access a seemingly endless fire hose of footage and information on social media, which has also allowed such upstarts as teqball to gain exposure. With its eye-popping artistry and rapid-fire pace, teqball is a better fit for TikTok and Instagram than, say, the 18-inning third game of the Astros-Mariners Major League Baseball saga.
Social media is also part of how elite players are gravitating to curved tables. In December 2019, Greco was negotiating another professional soccer contract, but none was to be had. She heard about teqball via a fellow athlete and decided to give it a shot after watching some clips. She called up Osmundson, with whom she’d played on the Sonoma State University Seawolves soccer team and who was similarly in contract limbo. In March 2020, Osmundson picked up and moved to Los Angeles to Northern California to compete with Greco in doubles teqball matches. “I fell in love with the sport instantly,” Osmundson says.
Encouraged by the gender-equitable competition slots and prize money as well as the success of women’s professional soccer in recent years, in 2020 the duo launched Bella Teq, the first all-women’s teqball club in the world. “We believe,” Greco says, “it’s going to lead to something bigger.”
In US teqball, there is no union or any collective bargaining agreements, salary minimums or shares for athletes in broadcast deals. Players have yet to see big shoe and apparel contracts from the likes of Adidas, Nike, Reebok and Puma. While doctors and trainers are on hand for major competitions, athletes are largely on their own for health care, body work or other maintenance through the season.
Although they are among the world’s highest-ranked teqers, both Greco and Osmundson work full-time nonteqball jobs, Greco as an environmental consultant and Osmundson as an operations manager for a sports academy. “It’s been tough,” says Greco. “Finding time between both of our schedules that align, plus a facility that has a table, is near impossible. So a lot of times we’re playing outdoors, just kicking a ball—and it’s not fancy at all—and just trying to stretch and stay fit.” They pick up some prize money on the side. “We’ve had small support,” Osmundson says. “But in order for us to flourish as athletes and for us to grow the sport, the resources overall need to increase.”
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