Name 5 Indian table tennis players from India!
Chances are that you won’t know.
Sharath Kamal is the lone most recognized face, (World Rank: 57; won the CWG Men’s Singles Gold, 2006 and teamed up with Subhajit Sinha in 2010 to win the CWG Men’s Doubles gold), others such as Soumyajeet Ghosh (WR: 83), Harmeet Desai (WR: 116) and Anthony Amalraj (WR: 197) are the power centers of TT in India.
In the women’s category Manika Batra (WR 134) and Mouma Das (WR 151) continue to dominate the national arena.
Why is TT not as popular in India as other sports like badminton, shooting and archery or simply why don’t we do better on the world stage?
It can’t be because of a dearth in talent, we have heavyweights in TT-like sports such as badminton and tennis. Also, derisive comments about TT not being a serious sport can be dismissed; check how intensively the Chinese have trained thus monopolizing TT in every global competition (like everything else).
It can’t be because we are not exposed to TT. Almost all schools provide a Table tennis table, given its minimal operating costs and the small space required for it to function.
It can’t be because of the lack of a regulator, although the efficiency does raise eyebrows. TT doesn’t have 4 federations like body-building, all claiming to be genuine or 2 warring hockey federations, HI and FIH. But Indian regulators cannot be trusted, because of the political angle, which inevitably and insidiously poisons our sports system.
So why you no like ping-pong Indians?
The answer more or less boils down to that one catalyst that is needed to galvanize a dysfunctional sport. Badminton had greats such a Prakash Padukone and later P. Gopichand who set up an academy in Hyderabad and trained the immensely talented shuttlers of our generation. Tennis had greats of the caliber of Ramanathan Krishnan, Vijay Amritraj and Ramesh Krishnan who enthralled the country enough to create great virtuous circle in tennis. Examples of ‘incubators’ and ‘accelarators’ of a sport can be cited from various sports and can be players or administrators (what Jagmohan Dalmiya did for cricket).
There is a lack of top notch Indian talent (albeit currently hidden) on the world stage to act as an inspiration for the amateur TT player. Infrastructure both human and physical is severely lagging global standards, and such investment will go a long way to cure this terminally-ill patient. Any sort of competition being televised on prime sports channels (Star Sports, Ten Sports or even Sony Six) is going to help popularize the scope for a career in TT (there is hardly any TT on the telly apart from that which is broadcast on DD Sports, which has absolutely bland commentary and bad viewing angles).
A safe distance should be maintained from politics of the day as this becomes just another hub to score political points and our players suffer tremendously. I fail to understand the paradox that even though we have such great administrators amongst us in government services (IAS, IPS, IFS, IFoS, etc), we severely lack sports administrators and managers who can run the sport as a well oiled machine. Maybe a separate Central cadre of ISS, Indian Sports Services, should be envisaged under the aegis of the Sports Ministry and talented individuals from across the globe should be selected to give a fillip to our sport system. It is absolutely appalling that players have to look out for patronage from the state post-retirement. With the onset of Indian Pro TT League this summer, an event on the lines of the IPL, I can only hope that TT gets a new lease of life that it desperately needs and deserves.
Men’s Doubles, A. Sharath Kamal (left) and Subhajit Sinha (right).