Paddler Sathiyan lashes out at state of sport in the country
Kolkata, Oct 10 (IANS) There is a "complete lack of system" in Indian sports, says Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, the wiry table tennis player from Chennai who beat higher ranked opponents not once, not twice but thrice to become the first Indian to win the Belgium Open last month.
"There is a complete lack of system in India. In Chennai, I was trying to emulate this (facilities in Germany). I got (Subramaniam) Raman Sir as coach. He was my personal coach for three years and then he had an academy this year," Sathiyan told IANS in an interview from Germany where he plays for the lower rung Bundesliga side TSG Kaiserslautern.
"In India, you don't have a centre to train. Like (Soumyajit) Ghosh and me, we train separately. In Germany, you have hundreds of such centres," said Sathiyan, who is one of the 19 athletes being supported by the GoSports Foundation under its Rahul Dravid athlete mentorship programme.
Sathiyan, ranked 113th, became the first Indian to win an International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) event since Achanta Sharath Kamal in 2012 when he claimed the Belgium Open crown.
"There is no foreigner who is coming to India. We need players who can challenge you. There should be leagues throughout the year. In Germany, there are 10-20 foreigners who are better than me. You need to have all kinds of players," Sathiyan said.
The 24-year old likened the development of badminton over the last few years to buttress his point.
"You need to have a coach, physio, trainer for 365 days. Badminton has done that. They have a proper training centre. It's like having a home for the sport. If every sport can have a home like this, Olympic medal is definitely possible."
Showering awards both in cash and kind is a norm in India to the medal winning Olympic athletes. P.V. Sindhu, who won the silver medal and bronze medallist wrestler Sakshi Malik were drowned in cash prizes after returning home from the 2016 Rio Olympics -- a trend which Sathyan finds hilarious.
"After Olympics, money showered on athletes is of no use. No other country besides India does that."
"At lot of importance needs to be given to training. It's good that the Federation (TTFI) is sending players for pro tours but there are a lot of flaws. Now we have two weeks training camps before a meet, it doesn't work like that."
"Olympics ke six months pehle coach de dia (a coach is given six months before the Olympics). It doesn't work like that. You play, you win or lose, there has to be a system in place round the clock," Sathiyan shot back.
Sathiyan missed out on an Olympics berth as he failed to take part in a qualifier tournament in Guwahati.
Lamenting at not being part of the four-member contingent which however, did poorly at Rio, Sathiyan said, "Of course it (Olympics) is much bigger than this (Belgium Open). But getting into the Olympics is like winning national championship. I didn't make it to the top four. I missed a tournament in Guwahati and it cost me very badly."
"I was upset things were not going in my favour and I could not get that mental frame. I couldn't get that extra mile in a crucial year. I was working hard for that (Olympics); I was little disappointed for sure".
Former national champion and Sathiyan's coach S. Raman, an Arjuna awardee, pepped him up saying he was just 24 and there will be many more opportunities in the future.
"But in hindsight, age is on my side and I feel I have two more Olympics left in me. It's not the end of the world. Sir (S.Raman) told me it's not the end of everything. So I left that behind and started training."
In May, Sathiyan exited the pro tours in Slovenia and Croatia in the first rounds. It was then that he picked up steam, showing glimpses of what he can do by retaining the inter-institutional meet in Jaipur earlier this year.
"I played my best table tennis. It will definitely help lift my ranking. When you play so many close sets with higher ranked players you understand you're in form," he added.
(Debayan Mukherjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)