The Indian table tennis team’s preparations in an Olympic qualification year have hit a major roadblock with the players having to fend for themselves without a coach, following a path-breaking 2018. The Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) and the Sports Authority of India, which is the employer of all coaches, are still far from finding Massimo Costantini’s successor five months after the Asian Games, where India ended a 60-year-wait for a table tennis medal.
India, in fact, got two medals from Jakarta with the men’s team and the mixed doubles pairing of Sharath Kamal and Manika Batra winning a bronze each. The unprecedented performance at Asiad has raised hopes of an Olympic medal, mainly in mixed doubles.
“There is no movement in the appointment of the foreign coach. We had sent shortlisted names to SAI and Sports Ministry but as of now, the government is busy with Khelo India. Everything else has been put on hold,” a TTFI official told PTI on Wednesday.
The final approval comes from the Sports Ministry. A SAI official said “the process is on for finding a suitable coach”.
“TTFI has been told to invite applications on its website and also put it up on the website of the ITTF (international body). Since it is a high-paying job, we have to follow due procedure,” said the SAI official.
Besides the stellar Asian Games performance, Indian table tennis recorded its best-ever showing at the Commonwealth Games with eight medals, including two gold from Manika Batra (singles and women’s team).
India’s finest player, Sharath Kamal, who recently won a record ninth national title, has already said that without a full-time coach, the team is losing momentum it gained last year.
“While the TTFI is looking for the best available coach, we are losing momentum. 2019 is an important year ahead of the Olympics and whoever comes in will need at least three months to understand the Indian system. So, it is imperative that the coach is appointed as soon as possible,” Sharath had told PTI last month.
Another TTFI official feared that the appointment could be delayed by months with the general elections to be held in the first half of the year.
“When the election dates are announced, the model conduct of conduct will be in place. Then I doubt that the appointment of a head coach will be a priority,” the official said.