Why can't we win an Olympic Gold in Table Tennis, ask Eesa and Musa

July 7th, 2019. It was already half past midnight, yet Eesa and Musa would practice forehand, chop and their favourite tomahawk serve in preparation for the much awaited District Srinagar Table Tennis Championship 2019 scheduled to commence in the Sher-i-Kashmir Indoor Stadium, Srinagar at 10 A.M. on 7th July, 2019. Born dreamers, the duo thought of a memorable debut at district-level championship which would go a long way into them being Olympic champions some day.

At the end of the tournament, Musa emerged as the district champion at Under-12 level defeating sibling Eesa who has to settle for the runner-up trophy. While Eesa was upset, Musa was equally jubilant for defeating his arch-rival in the final. And at the end of the day, both would ask me, Why can’t we win an Olympic Gold in Table Tennis?

Well before the tournament, I, as a parent was even more excited to witness my kids getting shaped into sportsmen – something what I did not get an opportunity to do at such age. As the J&K Sports Council’s (JKSSC) ‘Calendar of activities for the year 2019-20’ was shared on 28th May, 2019 on the J&K Sports Community watsapp group, I began to look for Table Tennis’s calendar of events and was happy to find district-level tournament scheduled on 28th June, 2019. On the same day, Eesa and Musa resumed what they had left at Jammu during winters – daily practicing. After all, they want to become the Olympic champions and emulate lawn tennis champion twins Bob and Mike Brian and Serena and Venus Williams sisters.

While dreams are all equal, dreamers are not. Dreaming in a developed nation is supplemented by modern infrastructure, scientific skill and fitness training and above all professional attitude at all levels. Contrarily, talent in developing nations is marred by lack of infrastructure, proper skill and fitness training and negative attitude at all levels of human resources.

To explain, district Srinagar TT championship 2019 was originally scheduled to start on 28th June as per the J&K SSC’s calendar of activities. To confirm the schedule, a week before the start of the tournament I went to the venue personally and to my dismay, the venue in-charge who was not aware about the event, guided me to call J&KSSC IT team – responsible for publishing of ‘calendar of activities’, who in turn advised me to file a complaint with the Secretary, J&KSSC to figure out the person responsible for conducting the event. Isn’t it lack of planning and communication?

Somehow, J&K Table Tennis Association through social media confirmed that the event was re-scheduled to 7th and 8th July, 2019 starting 10 A.M. Full of energy, we reached the venue an hour before the scheduled time – to get a feel of the bounce of the tables to be used during the competition. Alas! There is a single dusty table lying dismantled in the corridor. Does this quality of infrastructure contribute to making Olympic champions? Surely not.

In the meanwhile, another competitor – 8-year old Mohammad Adam, who looked equally inquisitive about the venue, joined the duo of Eesa and Musa. The trio along with a few other participants sat waiting for two hours before the organizing secretary arrived at the venue at around 11 A.M. to start the process of registration. Incidentally, in conversation with Adam’s father Dr. Irfan, it emerged that he was equally dejected with the level of preparation done for conducting the tournament.

Having accompanied his two children – Adam and Iba – to the venue, Dr. Irfan expressed, “Although I would encourage my children to take sports as a profession, yet to groom them into champions, it is necessary to have basic infrastructure, proper coaching and a healthy environment in place. Coming to SKISC for district Srinagar Table Tennis Championship 2019, I am quite depressed with the level of preparation done by the organizers – be it punctuality, quality of table being used and the overall atmosphere in the indoor stadium.”

“A single rotten table for 80 participants is pathetic. SKISC building is said to be among the best sports complexes in the country, but the facilities inside are poor by all standards. Back home, in this culture, I would re-think of grooming children into sportsmen.”

Another parent to the venue Dr. Nasir Wani, an avid TT player since 1997, having participated in several inter-college and inter-regional TT championships in his youth said that he is very much interested to introduce Table Tennis to his children. However, given his professional commitments, he is not able to spare time on coaching his children in Table Tennis. While Dr. Nasir Wani believes that Kashmir has enough talent to become the best globally, he felt aggrieved due to unprofessional behaviour of the organizers and the J&K State Sports Council. Commenting on the championship, Dr. Nasir said, “This year’s district TT was below par, nowhere near any district championship held in rest of the country. A single table for more than 50 participants: That is miserable.”

“To express my concern, I tried to call the J&K State Sports Council, but to my utter surprise, I could not find phone numbers of any of the officials on the Council’s official website,” Dr. Nasir futher said.

Under-17 finalist Usman who played state-level tournament in Jammu last year said, “Not to talk of metros or other states of the country, even in Jammu there are 5 to 6 tables to play in the indoor stadium with a professional coach deputed from the Sports Authority of India. Unfortunately, within the grand structure of SKISC, neither there is a table nor any coach to groom the upcoming Table Tennis players from the valley.”

As a responsible parent, with dream of emulating the likes of Bob / Mike Bryan and William sisters (Lawn Tennis stars) I helped my kids inculcate the habit of saving their Eidi to purchase imported bats and other equipment but for coaching, training etc., it is not feasible for a common man to take over the developmental roles of the government.

Without a table and a coach in place in the gigantic Sher-i-Kashmir Indoor Sports Complex, for talent like Eesa, Musa, Adam and others, Table Tennis Olympic Gold is a fantasy. Better forget it!