On Monday evening, the Indian table tennis team for the Commonwealth Games was announced. Again. The women’s team now consists of reigning CWG champion Manika Batra, Sreeja Akula, Reeth Rishya, and Diya Chitale, who replaced the earlier-announced Archana Kamath.
This change came three days after Chitale filed a writ petition challenging her exclusion from the team, but before the court even heard her appeal, which is… curious. It also raises a question mark on the inclusion of Batra.
Why the sudden U-turn on Chitale?
The court-appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA), which is now in charge of the functioning of the suspended Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI), took the decision after a meeting in which it appears that the impending court-case was not even discussed.
Instead, as per the minutes-of-meeting, Kamath was removed because she is “unable to meet the grade” and her poor domestic form (Archana lost in the round-of-32 in the national championships; “reflecting lack of form and confidence”). The Committee then went on to question both Kamath and Batra’s commitment to the doubles format since they didn’t participate in the doubles event at those same nationals. They then contrasted this with Chitale, who is currently ranked 3 nationally (Kamath is 37, Batra is 33) and praised her recent performances domestically and in the junior circuit internationally.
Why was Kamath selected in the first place, then?
On May 31, when they announced the squad, SD Mudgil (CoA representative and chairperson of the selection committee) admitted Kamath was not eligible to be in the top four as per the selection criteria. But that since she was one half of the world no.4 doubles pair (with Batra), the two combined would be top seeds at the CWG: And hence made for a better medal prospect.
This is when Chitale moved the writ petition.
What is this controversial criteria? And what about Batra?
As per the existing criteria, this is the relative weightage in selection: Domestic Ranking 50% + International Ranking 30% + Selectors’ Discretion 20%.
Points are allocated to players based on their national rankings – the top-ranked player would be awarded 50 points, while the 10th ranked player would get five points. Then the player with the best international ranking would get 30 points, while the 10th one would get three points. The remaining 20 points are awarded by the selection committee and chief national coach.
It would appear that if that criteria was strictly followed, then Akula, Rishya and Chitale – ranked 1, 2 and 3 respectively would make the team, along with national rank 4, Swastika Ghosh.
Batra (international rank 39 – highest among Indian women) and Archana (international ranking 66 – second highest) would get a maximum total of 50 and 45 points due to their high international ranking (and allowing for maximum marks on discretion), but neither score should have been enough to make the team.
That raises another question — why was Kamath singled out and Batra left alone?
Did anyone else go to court?
Yes, Manush Shah. He filed a writ petition with the Delhi High Court on the same lines as Chitale. As per the earlier advertised selection criteria, it should have been him (national rank 4) making the men’s squad along with national ranks 1-3, Sharath Kamal, Sanil Shetty and Harmeet Desai. This would mean he then replaces Sathiyan Gnanasekaran – India’s best-ranked international player (intl rank 34, national rank 8).
Will the CoA replace Sathiyan with Manush, since that’s what the selection criteria state and since they laid a precedent with Chitale’s re-inclusion?
Is there any change in criteria being proposed?
The CoA had proposed a new ranking/selection criteria in early May which shifted more weightage to international: Domestic Ranking 40% + International Ranking 40% + Selectors’ Discretion 20%.
In such a case both Batra and Kamath would score high, as would Sathiyan, but it was to be applied only from October 1.
Now, why is the CoA in charge in the first place?
The Delhi High Court suspended the TTFI in February this year and appointed a CoA comprising Chief Justice (Retd.) Geeta Mittal, Chetan Mittal (senior advocate) and SD Mudgil (former decathlete) were named as members of the Committee.
The TTFI was suspended based on the report submitted by the three-member committee that was appointed to examine match-fixing allegations made by Batra. She had alleged that the former national coach, Soumyadeep Roy had forced her to lose a match so that his ward, Sutirtha Mukherjee, could qualify for the Olympic Games.
Manika filed a petition in September last year after the TTFI issued a show-cause notice to her in August. Why the show cause? Because she refused to be coached by Roy at the Games. Batra was also subsequently omitted from the Asian Championships squad after she failed to attend the preparatory national camp.
Are there any other controversies around the team selection?
A clear directive issued when Manika’s case was heard in the Court: personal coaches of players would not be eligible to become national coaches.
However, that directive seems to have fallen on deaf ears as the CoA has named S. Raman and Anindita Chakraborty as the coaches for the men’s and women’s teams for the CWG. It may be noted that Raman is Sathiyan’s personal coach. The CoA has said it will ensure Raman submits an undertaking to avoid any conflict of interest.