A skewed selection policy for the Commonwealth Games, litigation and a lose-lose situation

It was the 2018 Commonwealth Games that took Indian table tennis to a new height. There were gold medals in both the men’s and women’s team events, and Manika Batra defied all odds to win gold in the women’s singles – a feat that earned her the Khel Ratna.

Later, at the Asian Games, where India had never won a table tennis medal before, there were bronze medals in the mixed doubles and the men’s team event. They also continued to punch above their weight at the Olympics, when Batra and Achanta Sharath Kamal became the first in the country to reach the third round of the women’s and men’s individual events respectively.

But now that the country is gearing up for another swing at the Commonwealth Games, since the climb began four years ago, an outdated and myopic selection policy has left a sour note and sparked litigation.

Last Friday, three players had addressed the High Court in Delhi after their exclusion from the Birmingham 2022 event from the squad announced on June 1.

Diya Chitale and Manush Shah have been named reserve players for the women’s and men’s teams respectively. Before Chitale’s case could be heard, the committee of trustees responsible for taking care of the Indian Table Tennis Federation’s duties made a change to the team. Chitale was recruited and Archana Kamath, world number 4 in doubles and world number 66 in singles (the second highest ranked Indian) was dropped from the squad.

Chitale, 19, is ranked 129th in the world in singles and 268th in doubles (with Swastika Ghosh).

But what makes the policy absurd is that the exclusion of Kamath and the inclusion of Chitale was done according to the book, based on the selection policy that exists – a policy that the CoA has already called “defective”, but which remains in force until October.

It is a policy that gives 50% weighting to the national ranking, 30% to the international ranking and 20% to the discretion of the selectors – double rankings are not taken into account.

“Despite exercising the selector’s discretionary points in his favor, Archana Kamath is unable to achieve the grade,” reads the decision stated in the “minutes of the meeting” at the meeting. of the CoA on June 6.

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Essentially, there were five National Ranking Events that the TTFI would factor into its policy – ​​four zonal events from October 2021 and the Senior National Championships which took place in April at Shillong.

We learn that the players were not specifically informed that this policy will be followed this time, especially since the CoA found at a meeting in Maythat despite the existing policy, the federation had also made arbitrary decisions in terms of team selection in the past.

If the players had been informed in advance, it is possible that they would have made sure to participate in these events rather than the national championships.

Kamath loses again

The player most at risk of losing as things stand is 21-year-old Kamath. She is no longer part of the CWG team, and she was also overlooked earlier in the singles event at the World Championship last year, although she is a worthy candidate.

“It is relevant to note here that two players below (Kamath) in the world rankings have been selected. Ms. Archana was not allowed to compete in the singles event and was only able to compete in the women’s doubles event despite her merit,” the CoA noted at its May meeting.

Despite this, Kamath had done well to help the women’s team finish fifth at the Asian Championships and reached the quarter-finals in women’s doubles at the World Championships with Batra. Between those two events, she teamed up with Batra to also win a WTT Contender doubles title in Slovenia.

His only flaw is missing out on all four ranking tournaments and losing in the Round of 16 at the recent Senior Nationals. His national ranking is therefore 37.

The player taking her place in the Chitale team, meanwhile, has had a great run recently, having won a U-19 WTT title in Peru. She competed in all five national events and placed third nationally, behind only Sreeja Akula and Reeth Rishya – both of whom were on the CWG team. Swastika Ghosh has been named the new reserve player.

Where are you going?

On the one hand, the CoA tried to play by the rules, even though they knew the selection policy was flawed. On the other hand, they obviously made exceptions to select Sathiyan Gnanasekaran and Batra, and you would say, rightly so.

Sathiyan is currently ranked 34th in the world and Batra 39th. They are among the best in India. But nationally, they are ranked 8th and 33rd. Does this mean that they too must give way to others?

After Chitale went to court – Men and Women of India No. 4, Manush Shah and Ghosh respectively also approached the Delhi High Court. If the court rules in their favor, according to the rules, will the CoA exclude Sathiyan and Batra, as they are the only players from both teams who are not ranked in the top four national rankings?

G Sathiyan and Manika Batra’s ‘meteoric’ rise to the Mixed Doubles Top 10

Sathiyan and Batra are also considered medal contenders in the mixed doubles event and had won a WTT event in Hungary the first time they teamed up after the Tokyo Olympics. They are also ranked sixth in the world in mixed doubles.

Meanwhile, Shah is the world No. 98 and the third highest ranked Indian internationally, better than Harmeet Desai (124) and Sanil Shetty (211). But Shetty and Desai are ranked second and third respectively in the national rankings (behind Sharath Kamal) – perhaps allowing them to retain their spot on the CWG team.

Lose-lose situation

More than anything else, it was just a biased selection policy – which is still used to determine Birmingham’s squad – that did the damage.

The CoA proposed a new policy at its May meeting – which provides for equal weighting between domestic and international performance (40-40-20) and also provides an allowance for top ranked players so that they do not have no need to participate in national events (ranked 50 or better), or play limited national events.

Ideally, that should have been the policy to determine the squad right now. After all, it is on the international circuit that the country’s stature in the sport will be measured, not on the national circuit. But maybe the administrators’ hands are tied now and they’re just picking up the pieces of the mess left by the past.

“International exposure should be encouraged as it directly contributes to the overriding objective of table tennis in India – to improve the international performance of the Indian team,” the CoA minutes said.

“Most importantly, team rankings at the Commonwealth/Asian Games and World TT Championships, i.e. international tournaments, are determined based on the team’s player world rankings.”

But this system only comes into play from next season. For the CWG, the CoA has yet to make the most of a flawed selection policy. As it stands, eight of the six players from both teams have been included in the book. But are Sathiyan and Batra in the team based on the selection policy calculations? Or simply because it is inconceivable to have an Indian team without the two best male and female international players in the formation? There are too many questions right now, logical answers are rare.

Either way, there will be a young table tennis player, the second highest ranked Indian in the world rankings, who will wonder how she failed to come out on top.

India’s TT teams for CWG (as of June 8, 2022)

Men: Achanta Sharath Kamal, G Sathiyan, Harmeet Desai, Sanil Shetty, Manush Shah (pending)

Women: Manika Batra, Diya Chitale, Reeth Rishya, Sreeja Akula, Swastika Ghosh (Pending)

Men’s team individual player rankings

Player International Domestic
Sathiyan Gnanasekaran 34 8
Ashanta Sharath Kamal 38 1
Harmeet Desai 124 3
Sanil Shetty 211 2
Manush Shah (Reserve) 98 4

Individual rankings of the women’s team players

Player International Domestic
Manika Batra 39 33
Sreeja Akula 70 1
Reeth Rishya 100 2
Diya Chitale 129 3
Swastika Ghosh (Reserve) 174 4

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