London, Sept.2 : Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, is in hot water for claiming that ping pong originated in Britain rather than in China.
Johnson's assertion in Beijing that the game started life as "whiff-whaff", played on the dining tables of the British upper classes, has had game-makers and historians accusing him of rewriting a small chapter of social history.
Joe Jaques, the commercial director of Jaques of London, the world's oldest sporting and games manufacturer, told The Times that Johnson had his facts "completely wrong".
He accused the mayor of doing his family a disservice by failing to acknowledge that they had been first to codify the game and had invented the name ping-pong years before whiff-whaff - devised by a business rival - was even thought of.
In typically flamboyant fashion, Johnson declared at the Olympics that it was a common misconception that table tennis had been invented in China.
In comments broadcast widely across the world, the mayor said: "Ping-pong was invented on the dining tables of England in the 19th century and it was called whiff-whaff.
"The French might look at a dining table and see an opportunity to eat. We looked at it and saw the opportunity to play whiff-whaff. And I say to the Chinese, and I say to the world, ping-pong is coming home."
However, according to Jaques, whiff-whaff was a poor imitation of a game invented by John Jaques, his great-grandfather, and which was manufactured many years earlier.
There is much speculation about the origins of ping-pong. Some historians believe that the game was derived from outdoor tennis. Others say that British soldiers in India originally played it.
However, the Jaques family claim that they commercialised the game, providing nets, balls, bats and formal rules.
Johnson, who prides himself on his historical knowledge, was unrepentant yesterday.
He said: "I stand by my assertion that whiff-waff and ping-pong are one and the same thing, with the 'whiffs' predating the 'pongs'. Regardless of semantics though, it is a sport of which we should be proud and I look forward to watching it in 2012."