The game has a huge following. But, are the senior players satisfied?

The Tamil Nadu Table Tennis Association prides itself on being one of the best-run sports bodies in the State. A large pool of players in all age-groups, a good turn-out in all its ranking tournaments backed by a committed band of officials and a systematic way of conducting events have made the TNTTA a model for most sports associations in Tamil Nadu.

Every year for nearly 10 years, more than 10 State-ranking tournaments and a State championship have been organised meticulously and to the satisfaction of all stakeholders. However, the issue of prize money seems to have touched a wrong chord in most of the top men and women players.

In the last 10 years, it has been nothing short of modest. From 2000 to 2005, the overall prize money for a tournament remained at Rs. 26,000 and from 2006-10, it was Rs. 39,400 and, this year, it has been hiked to Rs. 52,400.

This year, the men's State-ranking winner will receive Rs. 2,000, and the women's champion Rs.1,300. The increase has been marginal over the last decade or so for the seniors. “It is difficult to be in the sport with the money we get as the rubber costs have gone up rapidly in the last couple of years,” says a top men's player. “We can use a pair of rubbers for two or three State-ranking tournaments at the most. A pair costs not less than Rs. 2,500,” says another player.

“The entry fee has also increased,” says a paddler.

What the officials say

But, D. V. Sundar, Secretary, TNTTA, is of the view that “the increase in prize money has been substantial. It has benefited all the players. From pre-quarterfinals to finals, we are giving prize money to 192 players in all categories (cadet, mini-cadet, youth, junior, sub-junior and senior).”

Sundar says the TNTTA has set a minimum prize money of Rs. 52,400 this year, and it is left to the organisers to raise it.

J. Selva Kumar, Joint Secretary, TNTTA, says, “We have not received complaints from players about the prize money. Reducing the number of tournaments while increasing the prize money is not feasible.”

So is there a way out? “Yes”, says R. Rajesh, a former State champion. The 34-year-old says TNTTA can conduct a mini-state championship (with one-and-a-half times the prize money as awarded in a State championship) in between the fourth and ninth tournaments.”

Rajesh, who has played for the men's State team for 17 years and was ranked No.1 for six years, says the current format allows little rest or time for recovery. “Now the emphasis is on quantity and not quality,” he observes.

Says A. V. Vidyasagar, coach of the Chennai TT Foundation Academy, who conducted a “popular” TT league for corporates but fell out with the TNTTA on the organisational aspects, “There is a lot of potential in TT, waiting to be tapped. Players aged above 21, who sacrifice a lot, should be taken care of. They should be adequately compensated.”

Former National champion V. Chandrasekar, now running the Chandra-Medimix Academy, feels TT as a sport has been unable to attract sponsors. He says, “The top National players hardly play in the State as they are busy with International and National commitments. Perhaps increasing prize money will draw more people to the sport.” A. Srinivasa Rao, coach of SDAT-AKG Development Centre also agrees.

Christopher Anas, chief coach of Lords TTA, says, “State-ranking is a selection process where playing for the State must be the priority.” No doubt, the TNTTA is doing its best for the sport in its own way. The time has arrived for it to raise the bar higher for the sake of the players who bring glory to the state.