Indian table tennis hunt for new coach before Tokyo 2020

India’s table tennis governing body hopes to zero in on a new coach by April.

By Sandeep Banerjee ·

In an effort to fill the gap left by erstwhile head coach Massimo Costantini's absence from the squad since September 2018, the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) has announced its intention to appoint a new coach by March.

Massimo Costantini, whose tenure as table tennis head coach of India earned the country two historic bronze medals at the 2018 Asian Games, unexpectedly departed his position in September 2018 and is currently working for the International Table Tennis Federation, the world body of table tennis.

There was an effort by the TTFI to rope in Canadian coach Dejan Papic in 2019. However, a knee injury put him out of the running.

India has therefore been playing without a coach since then and its effects have manifested in the disappointing performances in January's Tokyo 2020 team qualifiers in Portugal, where neither the men's nor women's teams made the cut.

TTFI looks at a four-year plan

Now, with the 2020 Olympics looming and the singles qualifying event coming up in April, TTFI secretary-general MP Singh spoke on the issue and the federation's steps toward appointing a new coach.

“Most teams employ coaches for a four-year Olympic cycle. So, when he suddenly left, we had only limited options to choose from and even that did not work out for us,” Singh told the Press Trust of India. “Going forward, we have decided to hire a coach for four years instead of renewing the contract every year. We have also got the sports ministry's approval for that.”

Pushing on regardless

In spite of the absence of a coach, the Indian players have pushed on and plied their trade quite respectably in the months since Massimo's departure.

Ranked 30th, 34th and 86th respectively, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, Sharath Kamal and Harmeet Desai are in the top 100 and have helped raise the standard of the sport in India, as have the efforts of the TTFI and the inception of the Ultimate Table Tennis league.

“The federation has started giving us a lot of exposure, along with the Sports Authority of India,” Sathiyan Gnanasekaran had told the Olympic Channel in December. “We’ve started going to a lot of foreign training camps and international tournaments. 

“The experience of playing matches has increased considerably and the advent of the Ultimate Table Tennis league has definitely helped us gain more confidence going into tournaments,” he had pointed out.

The need of the hour

However, their efforts will have been for nought if they fail to make the cut for the 2020 Olympics. With the singles qualifiers coming up in April, a new coach is the need of the hour if India wants to ensure its best shot.

“I am confident that by next month, we would have zeroed in on the coach (on sidelines of World Championships),” declared MP Singh to PTI.

However, Singh isn’t completely of the opinion that the absence of a coach played a part in India’s Portugal disappointment.

“The women's team narrowly missed out on an Olympic berth but played well. However, the men's team, which should have qualified, crumbled under pressure.”

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether the TTFI manages to appoint a new coach before the 2020 Olympics, or whether they can get one on board for the Olympic table tennis singles qualifiers in April.