Following the trend of launching lucrative sporting tournaments, table tennis too has taken the plunge, setting up Ultimate Table Tennis.
Unlike other sports, though, its marquee competition doesn’t boast of big money. In the six-team league’s first player draft held on Friday, the higher rated athletes got Rs 20 lakh, while the lower ranked players got just Rs 1.5 lakh.
In contrast, in its third auction held a few weeks ago, the Pro Kabaddi League franchises were provided a purse of Rs 4 crore, resulting in a player (Nitin Tomar) walking away with a whopping sum of Rs 93 lakh.
Yet even through the comparatively smaller amounts, there is a vast scope of benefits players are looking forward to.
At 33, India No.2 Mouma Das has spent years paying for her equipment. “Most players have companies providing them with TT bats, but I don’t,” says the world No.131. “I have to save for it from whatever I get at tournaments to change the rubbers on the bat. It wears off after every week or two. So, you have to keep changing it once every tournament.”
The cost of changing the rubber is around Rs 4500, yet that stands as a cheaper prospect as compared to the travel expenses players incur while on tour. In a year, the national team is sponsored by the Federation for four to five events.
“For a player, you need to take part in at least nine to keep your ranking up,” says G Sathiyan, only the second Indian after Achanta Sharath Kamal to win a Pro Tour event. “The bigger tournaments are all abroad, and you spend about Rs 2 lakh.”
It’s also in those self-sponsored competitions that the players have to hire the services of physiotherapists, trainers or coaches whenever required. It’s only before the federation-supported events that a national camp is organised for the players.
“Sometimes you do get a few niggles or your game isn’t going right. So, you do need that support,” adds the 24-year-old.
In the six-team tournament, each franchise is made up of four Indian and four international players – including the likes of world No.7 men’s player, Chun Ting Wong of Hong Kong, and women’s world No.9 Ying Han of Germany.
Exposure for Indian players
And it’s the prospect of sharing the bench with such players that Kamlesh Mehta asserts is the “greatest exposure.’
“You will have these players cheering for you, guiding you, and then you get to see how they play, train, and handle situations,” says Mehta, former India coach who has played a key role in the creation of UTT.
In terms of the finances, there are no concrete plans yet about increasing the figures in the coming years. “We have to take it one year at a time for now,” Mehta says.
But at the same time, the UTT has been keenly supported by the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF).
So much so that when the idea of the marquee league was introduced to the world body two years ago, the July window was kept open to scheduling the event. “They simply liked the idea. Since we spoke to them two years ago, they made sure the 2017 calendar didn’t have any major ranking events at this time.”