Table tennis CWG team selection mess — Eye-opener on how CoA shouldn't work
Brought in to clear the mess of the Table Tennis Federation, the CoA body is finding itself in troubled waters with its controversial selection of the CWG squad - causing unrest among players.
Over the past couple of weeks, Indian sports has gone from deep-diving in the pool of achievements to drowning itself in controversies. Perhaps most emblematic of the latest crisis is the case of the Committee of Administrators (CoA) appointed by the Delhi High court to administer the functioning of the now-suspended Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI).
Before we dive into this head-first, a little bit of background is important. The CoA was appointed by the Delhi High Court after it was determined that the TTFI had not followed the National Sports Code – a set of regulations passed by the government in 2011. The Sports Code on principle is a progressive document – it enunciates the 'basic universal principles of good governance, ethics and fair play'. The bill had put restrictions on the age and tenure of the office-bearers of federations. It also envisaged transparent functioning along with free and fair elections.
However, while the courts might have had the best intentions, the CoA appointed by them has been guilty of a string of erratic decisions and little vision. And this could be a sign of things to come. The TTFI isn't the only federation facing the wrath of the courts for not following the Sports Code. With the Commonwealth Games around the corner, this is a worrying prospect.
The table tennis team selection drama
The CoA for the TTFI, comprising Chief Justice (Retd.) Geeta Mittal, Chetan Mittal (senior advocate) and SD Mudgil (former decathlete) have recently made quite the ruckus in the name of selecting the squad for the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, causing unrest among players thanks to a flawed, 'subjective', and obscure form of selection, making them rush to the court with writ petitions.
The initial squad had Manika Batra, Sreeja Akula, Reeth Rishya and Archana Kamath (added as an exception because of the World No. 4 doubles ranking she shares with Batra) and Diya Chitale on standby for the women's team. In the men's, Sharath Kamal, G. Sathiyan, Harmeet Desai, and Sanil Shetty made up the squad with Manush Shah as the standby.
However, this team announcement was just the tip of the iceberg because players soon found loopholes galore with the selection policy and Diya Chitale went to court first, asking to be included in the team and Archana Kamath (once an exception) was also dropped seamlessly with another fresh statement issued from the CoA. Manush Shah and Swastika Ghosh also followed Diya to court, with the same request.
With an ever-changing set of rules and decisions being taken, the CoA's arrival at the helm of the Indian table tennis administration is snowballing into a big pickle that it needs to find its way out of, justly, fairly and quickly.
The cons of the current CoA set-up
Yes, it's true the principles mentioned in the Sports Code are ideal to run a federation successfully and also for the growth of sports. But there is more to running a successful sports program than just running the administration of a federation. And it becomes harder still if the administration is a bunch of retired judges who are oblivious to the ground realities of a sport.
This does not mean that judges should not be part of the CoA. They are an integral part of a committee as they are the upholders of the law. But a CoA should also feature ex-players and even current (if possible), to make the right calls.
Otherwise, we will have more episodes similar to how the Selection committees in table tennis were headed by a former decathlete and how the remuneration for the administrators was more than the entire prize money for players in a year. We might see more cases where a distinguished former player Manjit Dua was prevented from being part of a medal ceremony since he was a part of the erstwhile TTFI establishment.
Yes, the majority of the federations are in a big mess and we need committees to help bring some order to their functioning. However, not at the cost of the sport itself.
The oddities of the TT selection
Take, for instance, the new selection policy that the CoA has introduced for picking table tennis teams for the Commonwealth Games (CWG).
Manjit Dua, the former head coach of the Indian table team, said that as per the existing TTFI selection rules, the top players Sathiyan Gnanasekaran and Manika Batra would not make the cut for the CWG squad. Secondly, he voiced his concerns over the way the rules are being enforced.
And then there is a lot of conflict of interests in this new selection policy - making paddlers question the process.
Even if we leave the players aside, questions like why the CoA appointed Sathiyan's coach S Raman as one of the coaches for the CWG team, also arise.
It doesn't seem fair after all the hullabaloo raised after the Delhi High Court's serious view of Soumyadeep Roy, who accompanied the Indian Olympic team to Tokyo and was Sutirtha Mukherjee's coach.
The court observed that anyone who runs a private academy should not be named as an official with the national team. Ironically, the CoA has done the same with Raman, who runs an Academy in Chennai - it somehow doesn't add up.
Is this not a direct violation of the Court's order?
While the TTFI is the latest example of a Committee of Administrators being unable to deal with the complexity of running a sports body, it isn't the first. A few years ago, there were similar issues in cricket when a committee of administrators was appointed to run the BCCI following the recommendations of the Lodha commission.
While the commission had proposed several reforms to bring transparency to the functioning of BCCI, the recommendations would end up being little more than good reading material. Instead of really making amends in the functioning of BCCI, it was more of a mess on a tried and tested formula that has improved with each passing year.
The role of a CoA should be to help National Sports Federation's bring order instead of just dissolving them and then starting from scratch. In the run-up to the CWG, all eyes will be on the TTFI CoA and how it solves problems it has unfortunately self-created while also clearing the mess of the Federation, suspended due to its "sorry state of affairs".