Testing positive in China will be a nightmare: G Sathiyan
The World Team Table Tennis Championships have always been one of the toughest tournaments for the Indian team. This year’s edition, however, brings an unprecedented challenge. And for reasons far beyond table tennis.
The tournament is scheduled to be held in Chengdu, China from September 30 to October 9. China is still battling waves of Covid-19 and Chengdu is essentially in lockdown. Essentially, it will be the only international sports competition in China this year after the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing, as the country postponed the 2022 Asian Games and relinquished hosting rights for the Men’s Asian Football Cup. expected in 2023 due to the increase in Covid-19 cases. .
The Indian men’s team will face a unique challenge as it will be the first time since 2003 that they have been without veteran talisman Sharath Kamal in a major championship. The 40-year-old, who had a sensational outing at the Commonwealth Games recently held in Birmingham winning gold medals in men’s singles, mixed doubles and men’s team as well as silver in men’s doubles, withdrew from the tournament asking for time to recover.
In Sharath’s absence, G Sathiyan will lead the men’s team while Manika Batra will continue to lead the women’s team.
Talk to The Indian ExpressSathiyan said while Sharath’s presence will be missed, he is “responsible and happy to lead the team”, saying he has learned a lot “just by being alongside Sharath”.
The main challenge, however, remains to get to China, stay there, and then return to India.
To come and go from China, the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) organized charter flights from Dubai and Singapore on September 26. But before boarding the chartered flight, players must undergo three Covid tests and during the final week before the tournament, they must update their health status on a portal shared with them.
The problem for the Indian contingent is that they must first compete in the National Games from September 20-24 in Surat. The organizers decided to hold the table tennis event before the opening ceremony scheduled for September 29 because the players have to travel to the world championships.
The team will fly to Dubai from Delhi on September 25 before taking the chartered flight to Chengdu on the 26th.
While the ITTF has promised the teams great hospitality in Chengdu, the fact remains that the tournament will be held in the strictest of bio-bubbles; no player will even be allowed to leave the area. Players will be tested every day and if they show symptoms they will be placed in strict quarantine. Sathiyan says this is the biggest fear.
“The last time I was in a strict bubble was at WTT Doha in 2020. The Tokyo Olympics had a bio-bubble but it was quite relaxed. It seems China is still in the phase 2020 regarding Covid restrictions.
“Our biggest fear is to test positive in China. It would be a nightmare for both an individual and the team. We don’t know how strict the quarantine will be or for how long.”
What if you actually played table tennis?
“The competition is very tough, to be honest,” says Sathiyan. “We have to do well in this edition to have a better ranking for the next World Championships which will serve as a qualification for the Olympic Games. Our team has been training well and we are very confident after the Commonwealth Games, so hopefully we will do well.
The lure of WTT Macau champions
Apart from Sathiyan and Manika, the rest of the Indian team will return to Dubai or Singapore by chartered flight no later than October 10.
Sathiyan and Manika are looking to compete at the WTT Champions in Macau from October 19-23. The top 30 players in the world qualify automatically while the organizers can give a player a wild card while a place is reserved for the host country.
Although Sathiyan is currently ranked 37th in men’s singles and Manika is 63rd in women’s singles, the rule that no more than four players can play from one country at least gives Sathiyan a good chance of qualifying.
The only problem is that players must quarantine for seven days – where they are allowed to train – before traveling to Macau.
Players who don’t come from the Chengdu bio-bubble have to be in an even stricter bubble, which basically means they have to reach Macau on October 6. This is one of the reasons why Sharath withdrew from the tournament as well.
To slightly compensate for the restrictions and also to entice players to have competitive play 32, the organizers have increased the prize money offered.
While most WTT Champions tournaments offer a $500,000 purse, the Macau tournament purse is $700,000. There is a significant increase in money to play in the early rounds (Rd of 32, 16). In some context, the WTT in Budapest held in July this year offered $4,250 to play in Rd of 32 and $6,500 for Rd of 16. Macau, on the other hand, offers $7,250 for Rd of 32 and $10,000 for Rd of 16, something unheard of.
“Just playing the first round guarantees players $7,250. It’s a great lure, but when you take into consideration the effort it will take to get there, you see why,” Sathiyan said.
And while he’s yet to sort out his visa and travel itinerary, there’s one thing Sathiyan and most players can’t seem to forget.
“We are going to China and there is a Covid-19 lockdown there.”