Can't trust Indian table tennis: Paddlers fed up with CWG team selection by CoA
Feeling wronged because of the oversight of the CoA in the CWG table tennis squad selection, perplexed paddlers Ayhika Mukherjee, Swastika Ghosh, Manush Shah, Diya Chitale request justice, knowing the odds of the system.
Fair is foul and foul is fair - much has been ado in the Indian table tennis camp ever since the Committee of Administrators (CoA)-run body announced the squad for the upcoming Birmingham Commonwealth Games 2022, raising unrest among veteran paddlers dropped from the women's squad.
"Unbelievable!", exclaims Ayhika Mukherjee, a 2019 Commonwealth Championships champion, "I can't believe they have selected a squad this way again. In 2018, before the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games as well, the selection procedure wasn't made clear and even now, I can't understand how they selected the team," she conveys, a little amused at this repeat saga to The Bridge.
Mukherjee isn't the only one feeling let down by the newly-appointed CoA, headed by retired Justice Geeta Mittal, Chetan Mittal (senior advocate) and decathlete S.D. Mudgil, after the TTFI's suspension recently in February due to its "sorry state of affairs".
The CoA has selected star paddler Manika Batra, National Champion Sreeja Akula, Archana Kamath (even though she did not meet the criteria) and Reeth Rishya, with youngster Diya Chitale selected as the reserve player. Both Ayhika Mukherjee and Tokyo Olympian Sutirtha Mukherjee have been left out of the squad, much to their surprise, with no clear-cut basis made transparent for the selection of the players, except for the fact that "medal prospects" and "past performances" were assessed before these decisions were taken.
The TTFI has had a long history of being rather subjective about the selection process and historically, all such team selections have happened arbitrarily with no such trials taking place, as we see in most other sports, leaving room for controversies and confusion to rise, in the absence of clarity.
"In 2018, I wasn't a part of the CWG squad despite meeting the criteria but back then I thought it best to keep quiet, but now I have the experience and the performance so I can demand to know how and why this selection was made, right?" she objectively puts.
Ayhika and Co. were expecting a change in the horizon with the CoA in place but little did they know, that they would be in for a disappointment, even after being reassured during the week-long national camp at the Padukone-Dravid Centre for Sports Excellence in Bengaluru, following which the selection was announced on June 1st and they were not on the list.
"I trusted this time there will be some change. But sadly, the CoA's action and behaviour feels very similar to the suspended TTFI body, personally," Ayhika, the reigning Doubles National Champion mentions, having already written a mail requesting the body to make transparent the basis of selection, despite her having the past experience and being a consistent performer on the circuit.
Not just Ayhika, other paddlers like youngster Swastika Ghosh, who is at India No. 4 has taken to Twitter to request justice in the matter while reserve player Diya Chitale has also filed a writ petition in Delhi HC to stay her CWG team selection, as she is not happy being left out from the main squad.
On the one hand, most paddlers find the inclusion of Archana Kamath, 'falling slightly outside the selection criteria' strange as she did not participate in the doubles at the National Championshi[ but has been taken because of her World rank of No. 4 with Manika Batra, while Ayhika is of the opinion that she should be considered over Reeth Rishya and Diya Chitale - given her string of past performances and overall experience at the world level.
The CoA's side of the story
As per the current selection policy, the CoA gives 50 per cent weightage to domestic performances, 30 per cent to international and 20 per cent is left to the discretion of the selectors (which is generally allotted entirely).
In the case of domestic performances, points are allocated to the top-10 national players; 50 points are given to the top-ranked player and five to the 10th-placed paddler. In the case of international performances, 30 points are awarded to the top-ranked player and three to the 10th. The remaining 20 points are left to the discretion of the selection committee. A paddler needs to score 51 points or more to get selected for the team.
By this method of calculation, neither Manika (30+0+20=50) nor Archana (27+0+20=47) was meeting the selection basis, which is where the room for confusion arises, as the CoA has decided to include them. Ayhika Mukherjee, in fact, shares the same points (15+15+20=50) as Manika, who was the golden girl from the 2018 CWG, making her inclusion still justified hence.
One of the statements made to the media on Tuesday, by Mudgil in Bengaluru, was, "Under the existing selection criteria, one of the members (Archana Kamath) falls outside the top four. The selection committee is convinced that the existing guidelines are flawed." A new set of guidelines will be implemented from October 1st.
No more expectations from Indian table tennis: Ayhika Mukherjee
More than feeling wronged at this juncture, Ayhika is fed up with the same old drama and unexplained partiality that takes place every time during selections for major events, like this.
"I've been facing this since childhood, I'm tired of the same old problems, at this point I have no more trust left in the Indian table tennis administration or any expectations from them. I have been consistent in my India rankings and world rankings in the last four years. Forget the team, I'm not even on the reserve list, " Ayhika laments.
"I will just keep playing table tennis because of my love for the sport, till I can, all this mess is too much to constantly battle," she continues with a tone of regret.
"I don't have an issue with Manika, Archana, and Sreeja being kept on the team but I can't figure out the basis on which Reeth and Diya were selected. At least, I have more experience than them. If the CoA looked at past performances, I want to understand which 'past' it is they looked at," Ayhika continues.
Meanwhile, Reeth Rishya, who has been included based on her India No. 2 rank and her title win at the ITTF Ecuador 2021, playing in a depleted field of just 12 paddlers, Ayhika is not convinced of this inclusion, although she isn't holding anything against her.
"The selectors need to look at what kind of tournaments, which all opponents they played when they assess, right?" the Bengal paddler quests, having been the only one to qualify into the main draw of the women's singles at WTT's highest-level of tournament, the WTT Singapore Grand Smash, earlier this year.
In fact, on this basis, in the men's squad as well, Manush Shah, who also won the ITTF Ecuador Open just like Reeth hasn't been included in the main squad despite having the points (59) for it and being placed right behind Sharath Kamal on the list. Instead, Sanil Shetty (55) has been chosen without the CoA making any comment on that decision to keep Manush off the squad.
Manush has also written to the authorities, asking for justice and undo the oversight on the CoA's part.
The recent selection drama of the table tennis squads has only unearthed the ugly side of the Indian table tennis set-up once more which the players allege, is flawed, in several ways.
In the CoA's bid to include 'medal prospects' based on 'past performances', somewhere players feel, the lines have been blurred and despite the protests, the perplexed paddlers have raised seeking justice, not much hope seems to be reigning in the omitted players, all-too-familiar with how every story concerning team selection ultimately unfolds, sadly.