CUTTACK: The Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Cuttack is gearing up to host the 21st Commonwealth Table Tennis Championship which starts from Wednesday. Officials and organisers are running from pillar to post to ensure that the finishing touches are put on time. The state government has done a commendable job of promoting the event which India is hosting for the seventh time in its history.
However, the competition has not only been robbed of its sheen because of the withdrawal of teams like Pakistan and Uganda but also due to the fact that the major competitors have come here with weakened squads. Among the missing stars are the likes of Liam Pitchford and Paul Drinkhall of England and Nigeria’s Aruna Quadri and Segun Toriola among men. In the women’s section, Singapore has not brought their top star and Olympic medallist Feng Tianwei. The reason: a cramped schedule. In the last month, international paddlers have had to play in five tournaments back-to-back.
It started with the ITTF Platinum China Open in the first week of June and included the Hong Kong Open, Platinum Japan Open, Korea Open and concluded with the ITTF Platinum Australian Open which ended on Sunday. All these tournaments are worth quite a lot of ranking points which in turn can help a paddler make it to the Olympics. The Commonwealth Championship, on the other hand, has no points to offer. Also, The ITTF prepares its yearly calender in December while dates and the venue for this meet were fixed in February. This was the only slot available otherwise another year would have passed without the tournament if not for TTFI’s willingness to host it.
Nigeria’s coach Bello Nosiru summed it up perfectly. “Players need rest. They pick and choose which tournaments to play so as to avoid burnout. Both our top stars thought it would be better if they took rest during this period and we can now blood the next generation of our country’s paddlers.” Africa’s stars also have the African Cup and Nigeria Open at the start of August.
Amy Yeo, athlete support manager of Singapore, said Feng needs to remain sharp. “Australian Open got over two days ago. She would have had to come here directly from Geelong. It would have taken too much toll on her. In today’s day and age, to remain at the top of one’s sport, athletes need rest and practice.”
Something that even India’s stars have touched upon. A Sharath Kamal said the schedule is such that players hardly get to practice. “People don’t realise the importance of practice. We have to iron out flaws, fix chinks in our armour and prepare according to our opponents. How do we do that without practice?”
Can this event reclaim its glory days? Elections for the Commonwealth Table Tennis Federation Limited will take place here on July 20.
With an increased Indian presence in the board, there is a possibility of things looking up in the near future. “We will send invites to more Commonwealth countries and try and convince ITTF of allotting a proper slot for the meet,” TTFI secretary MP Singh said. He is set to become the new secretary of the Commonwealth TT federation.
Tough draw for India
India got the toughest group opponents from among the 12 teams participating in the 21st Commonwealth Table Tennis Championships. India is clubbed with Singapore and Scotland in Group B, while England, the top-ranked team here and placed in group A, have Sri Lanka and Cyprus for company.
Group A: England, Sri Lanka, Cyprus.
Group B: India, Singapore, Scotland.
Group C: Nigeria, Malaysia, Bangladesh.
Group D: Australia, South Africa, Wales.
Group A: Singapore, Wales, Scotland.
Group B: India, South Africa, Sri Lanka.
Group C: Australia, Malaysia, Cyprus.
Group D: Nigeria, England, Bangladesh.