Niraj Bajaj: 'We are not worried when will UTT become profitable'

More than four decades since he hung up his boots at 22 to join the family business, Niraj Bajaj, the former India table tennis captain, had numerous requests to be associated with the game that he loved. He even admits the game “gave so much” to him.

Niraj Bajaj in Pune on Wednesday.   -  Vivek Bendre

More than four decades since he hung up his boots at 22 to join the family business, Niraj Bajaj, the former India table tennis captain, had numerous requests to be associated with the game that he loved. He even admits the game “gave so much” to him.

But he didn’t find anything worthwhile until last year when Vita Dani and Kamlesh Mehta, the brain behind 11Sports – a firm founded solely for the promotion of table tennis — came up with the Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT).

“For once, I thought someone was taking a professional approach for the development of table tennis. That's when they talked about the Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT) and it was by Indian standards very very ambitious. India hasn't had anything of such standards in table tennis,” Bajaj, who came on board as the UTT co-promoter, told Sportstar after the conclusion of UTT’s Pune leg.

“In 50 years since I started playing table tennis, I have not seen players getting the best of everything — logistics, accommodation in five-star hotels, quality of international players and television coverage. I said that if I am associating with an initiative, there should be no compromise. That was the vision for Vita and the rest of the team.”

Despite the UTT promoters bleeding right now financially, Bajaj, who is one of the youngest Arjuna Award recipients, is not thinking too much about it. At the same time, he is upbeat on the UTT breaking even sooner than expected. “Of course we wouldn't like to keep putting in money. We are very happy if UTT sustains on its own. But what matters is that we giving quality to the audience, to our players; are we giving facilities to our players, are they benefitting from it? And you see the performance, how much they have improved in the last two years. If they keep improving, when will UTT make money becomes irrelevant,” Bajaj said.

“Their performance will be satisfying. Yes, the game becomes popular, there will be more sponsors. We will be more than happy if even the franchises start making money and UTT becomes profitable. But we are not worried when it will happen. It may take a year or two or even three years. But the way it's going, it will happen sooner than everyone would expect.”

An entrant like 11Sports with a product like the UTT may unnerve the national federation. But Bajaj, who over the last decade as a member of the board of directors for the Olympics Gold Quest, a not-for profit organisation for producing Olympic champions, has been dealing with various federations feels the UTT and the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) have had a smooth ride so far.

“We are finding it a much easier and happier journey than we thought. First my experience was with OGQ and all of us know what it is like. But when they see genuine people, when they see someone is being selfless, their approach changes,” Bajaj said. “We are not here for our glory. We are asking for nothing, we are only here to help. If India does well in table tennis, the Table Tennis Federation of India will take the credit and we would be extremely happy for it. Normally what happens is federations may feel negative with such an approach but TTFI are very welcoming.”