The Committee of Administrators (CoA) running the affairs of Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) has released a new document in the TTFI website that covers a wide gamut of issues including the ‘Conflict of Interest’ and inconsistencies in selection of players to major International tournaments.

Among them is the new selection/ranking criteria for domestic and international tournaments that will come into force on October 1 2022 “or immediately after the first ranking tournament, whichever is earlier.”

Explaining its stand on why it had to take a strong stand on several issues, the CoA said: “the existing selection criteria and process are manifestly inadequate in implementing the vision and administrative goals of TTFI or in ensuring that the Indian table tennis players have the assurance of a transparent and consistent selection framework.”

CoA had released a proposed new selection/ranking criteria on April 6 this year while asking for suggestions from all the stakeholders: players, parents, coaches and State Associations.

After receiving the feedback, it has come up with a ranking/selection criteria which it says is “inclusive and fair.” “Nor can it be denied that there is a critical need for the revamp of ranking and selection criterion.”

CoA summarily rejected the current system that gives 50 percent and 30 per cent weightage for domestic and international rankings and 20 per cent for selectors’ discretion.

“This (current) system”, it emphasised, “does not adequately recognise International performances. The number of prestigious International tournaments has increased leaps and bounds since the above criterion was framed. The International exposure should be encouraged as it directly contributes to the overarching goal of table tennis in India–enhancing the Indian team’s international performances. Most importantly, the team seedings at the Commonwealth/Asian Games and World [team] championships are arrived at based on world ranking of team players.”

CoA said domestic performances should be considered for younger age group players. “It (domestic performances) should be particularly prioritised in younger age groups where players are still evolving and play most often in the domestic circuit.”

International appearances, CoA said, may be maintained to provide exposure rather than to seek ranking points for age group paddlers.

For u-11, 13 & 15, CoA hasn’t provided any percentile for International performance. On the other hand, 80 per cent has been given for domestic performance and 20 for selectors discretion each in u-11 to u-15.

In the u-17, 19 categories, more weightage is given for domestic performance–60 & 50 per cent respectively. However, for seniors (men & women), equal weightage of 40 per cent has been given for domestic and international performances.

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The new criteria, according to CoA, have been carefully crafted to promote meritocracy in Indian TT rankings and selections. “Players from affluent backgrounds will not earn the privilege of playing internationally without having performed well in domestic events,” wrote CoA.

To be considered for selection into the Indian team, a senior player (men & women) should have played the National championships and two ranking events. For other age groups, a player should have played the Nationals and four ranking events including the Khelo India Games.

It also highlighted the need for chief coaches to be Special Invitees to all Selection Committee meetings and underscored the circumstances under which selectors exercise their discretionary powers should be documented and reasons for exercise of such powers should be documented and disclosed.

While voicing concerns about the rampant Conflict of Interest incidents, the CoA highlighted a few such cases. “‘[There are] allegations that a legal advisor of TTFI running a private academy in Delhi was sent as a coach for the World Cadets Challenge. Impression has been that with malafide intention, it was decided that TTFI would run its national coaching camp at his Academy.”

Citing another case, it said: “A mother [former International] of a player has been part of the selection Committee which has been instrumental in selection of her daughter in the National team.”

CoA listed several cases of inconsistent selection by the erstwhile TTFI when it came to selecting the National team for International tournaments.

“In the 2018 Commonwealth Games at Gold Coast, a grave injustice was done to Manav Thakkar who was not picked in the Indian team despite being ranked No. 2 in India and Arjun Ghosh (India No.5),” it noted.

Swastika Ghosh, the CoA said, was unfairly dropped from the Indian team for the Czech junior and cadet open, despite being ranked No.4 in India.

Similarly, in the 2021 Asian championships, the third and fourth ranked players–Soumayjit Ghosh and Sushmit Sriram were not picked while TTFI picked the 8th and 17th ranked players–G. Sathiyan and Sharath Kamal respectively.

CoA took strong exception to Archana Kamath not being part of the singles event in the World Table Tennis Slovenia despite the fact that earlier she was part of the Indian women’s team in the 2021 Asian championships which finished a historic 5th place. Archana and Manika Batra won the women's doubles event at WTT Slovenia.

Archana, it said, was not picked for the 2021 World championships despite being the third highest ranked singles player at the time. “Two players below her in world rankings were selected. Not allowed to participate in Worlds in singles. …In view of her merit she has been included in the TOPS Core Group for the 2024 Paris Olympics with effect from January 2022," said CoA.

“Such selections, CoA insisted, “obviously adversely impact the results of the competitions so far as the position of Indian teams is concerned.”

When asked on what basis will the Indian senior men and women teams for the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games be picked, Surindra Dev Mudgil, Member of CoA, said that it would be based on the existing system.

There is no doubt that CoA has done a commendable job in highlighting several critical issues that require reforms. How well it can implement them will be crucial.