ITTF CEO: CWG performance key to TT expansion in India

The advent of a professional league, Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT), provides the players with the "much-needed exposure", according to ITTF CEO Steve Dainton.

Making rapid strides: The star of India's stellar TT campaign at the CWG was Manika Batra, who ended with four medals including two gold.   -  AKHILESH KUMAR

Indian paddlers’ historic performance at the 2018 Commonwealth Games has provided a brilliant platform to further grow the sport in the country, feels International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) CEO Steve Dainton.

India bagged a record haul of eight medals, including an unprecedented gold in the women’s team and singles event at the CWG. The star of the stellar campaign was Manika Batra, who ended with four medals including two gold.

"India has the 2nd largest population in the World, and TT is a relatively popular sport here. If the market is to grow in India, then we need more top-class players playing at the highest level," Steve said.

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"Winning three gold medals at the CWG is a good start, it has really taken the imagination of the sport to the people and now we have to take the next step."

Paired with the CWG performance, the advent of a professional league, Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT), provides the players with the "much-needed exposure.''

"With Ultimate Table Tennis providing the exposure to the players, clubbed with high-performance programs with international coaches, the Indians have been on a roll."

"I really hope that UTT grows. However, UTT is still two years old, a baby, and to be able to execute an event of such a magnitude is a truly commendable feat. The level of players who are coming in is pretty good."

Steve also lavished praise on India chief national coach Massimo Costantini and expressed his desire to work with the Italian.

"I really like the head coach from Italy, I hope we can work with him also in the future. He could maybe also help us with our future projects because there aren’t a lot of people that have been able to go outside their country and bring different styles and that’s really a successful story," he noted.

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Although India’s confidence has been boosted by the new ranking system, under which as many as six paddlers had recently featured in the top 100, the ITTF has received a lot of flak from traditional powerhouses like China. Defending the decision, Steve said it was a commercial move.

"The broadcasters want the best players, the sponsors want the best players and the new world ranking encourages the best to play at top events. It’s quite simple, you need ranking that supports your products, which are our major events.

"Our past philosophy provided a ranking at a technical level but that didn’t necessarily support our product because the former ranking meant that one didn’t need to play all the events, as soon as one got a high ranking they could miss events. And that doesn’t help grow the commercial products," he explained.

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Taking inspiration from the Badminton World Federation, which has been successful in popularising the sport, Steve feels this is the right time to broaden TT’s horizon by tapping in on the social media age.

"In the 1960s, when television became a key part of how sports was presented around the world, we (ITTF) didn’t take the necessary steps at the time to move on the new trend.

"However, we are catching up now in this new age of Social media. I believe Table Tennis is an extremely viewer-friendly sport and will gradually pick up like tennis and badminton."