Administrator extraordinaire

T.D. Ranga Ramanujan — Photo: T.A. Hafeez  

ADMINISTRATION OF sport is far more complex than straightjacket business management. And it is doubly complicated when supervised without adequate financial muscle. The essence of success in such circumstances is hard work, dedication and quiet diplomacy to overcome the odds, genuine or created, invariably contrived than genuine. Few administrators of contemporary Indian sport filled quintessential parameters and carved new dimensions in the area of sport management as much as T. D. Ranga Ramanujan. Nothing exemplifies this than the worldwide recognition Ranga gained for the manner in which he organised two world table tennis championships at Bombay in 1952 and again at Calcutta in 1975.

"I began work for the 1952 World Championship, the first ever world event for any sport in the East, without money even for postage. Yet, we managed even to pay entertainment tax to the then Bombay Government headed by Morarji Desai, who refused to give exemption. The paying public and income from souvenir helped us through the memorable venture in the improvised structure at the CCI and Barabourne Stadium," recalls the 85-year old in a mood of introspection and nostalgia. Even in 1975, nothing changed much in Calcutta: "We paid for conservancy and police for security, which had to be tightened enormously because of the first ever visit to India by the Chinese team for the World Championship."

Talking to Ranga Ramanujan is an experience in itself. Amazing is his razor sharp memory. He reels off statistics, dates, venues and members of the team with beaming nonchalance — the hallmark of a brilliant raconteur. Conducting the second World Championship in Calcutta was not easy notwithstanding the organising committee headed by the then Chief Minister, S.S. Ray, projected as a dynamic and erudite politician. The pace of work towards completion of the Netaji Indoor Stadium was tardy. But the whole project was completed in 72 working days with the aid of outside labour force numbering over 600. Ranga recalls with gratitude the support lent to the project by the then Chairman of FICCI, K. K. Birla, for garnering advertisement revenue from the souvenir.

For many, Ranga, as he is affectionately called, continues to be the father of Indian table tennis, a nondescript sport in the early Fifties. But by sheer dint of hard work, enterprise, efficiency and energy, he gave this discipline a different dynamics, made it a most talked about one. Not surprisingly, he was the true ambassador of sport. Who else in Indian sport today has the honour of being invited for an audience with no less a person than Mao and Chau-En-Lai in 1952? Ranga also has the distinction of taking the Indian team, the first sporting outfit in the world to visit China in 1950. He recalls how Mao visited the Imperial Hotel hall, where the match was played.

"In those days, China never had such beautiful indoor stadia as it has today." And he adds, "this was the only table tennis match that the Chairman of the Communist Party had witnessed as a spectator." Actually, Ranga sent a letter from Hong Kong where the Indian team was playing to China for a visit. The request was granted immediately with the Chinese government hosting the team, after meeting the passage cost between Hong Kong and Peking aside from arranging a sight seeing tour of the whole country. "What a memorable experience it was!" Ranga acknowledged.

For one who began life in a humble, middle-class, orthodox family, the scale of achievement for Ranga in sports is phenomenal. Born here at Chintadripet, Ranga had schooling in several Andhra centres, like Kakinada, and obtained Masters' Degree in Economics from Loyola in 1942. Organising table tennis tournaments was his passion. The diligence and dedication ingrained in his approach won him a distinctive status on the city's sporting scene. It was only after moving to New Delhi that Ranga's ingenuity came to be appreciated by the Government and other national level organisations.

What Ranga regrets today, and rightly so, is that the sports fraternity identifies him as the messiah for table tennis. Not many are aware of his involvement in more than one project. He was a limb of the organising committee for the first Asian Games in New Delhi under that dynamic administrator Antony de Mellow. How many today know that the Asiad Emblem, which passes hands from Mayor to Mayor in host cities, was designed in his Chintadripet house for a paltry sum of Rs. 17. The silk cloth was bought in Pondicherry and flag posts were made at Gudiyatham? "I carried the whole cargo in a third class compartment from here to Delhi. I am yet to claim the train-fare," he says in a lighter vein.

It is difficult to disagree with Ranga when he says that why his contribution to table tennis alone is catalogued for posterity. This is understandable considering the role he has played in several other institutions, and in shaping Government policies. The annual Arjuna Award given to sportspersons was his brainchild, and so was the Dronacharya Award. The suggestions were accepted immediately by the then Chairman of the All India Council of Sports, Yadvandra Singh, Maharajah of Patiala. In fact, Ranga even put forth the plea to have special awards, the Chanakya Award for carrom and billiards. The concept of Bharathiyam is again a scheme worked out by Ranga.

Ranga is also the author of the Rajkumari Amrit Kaur coaching scheme and formulated the programme for the launch of the National Institute of Sports at the Motibaug Palace in Patiala. He was instrumental in recruiting celebrity players, who were without moorings in the wake of independence to get gainful employment as coaches. These included Lala Amarnath, C. K. Nayudu, Capt. Dhyan Chand, A. G. Ram Singh, C. K. Nainakannu, V. Sivaraman and Mrs. C. K. K. Pillai. Most of them were paid as much as Rs. 1,200 per month, not a small amount in the early 1950s.

The sports fraternity should also remember Ranga for taking the initiative to bring the famous Harlem Globe Trotters, the magic basketballers from the United States, for a series of exhibition matches to offset the loss incurred by hosting the World Championships at Bombay. He also provided the athletics community a chance to witness the legendary Jesse Owens and the Zatopeks, Emil and Dona, whose exploits on the Olympic arena need no reiteration here. The visit of Russian gymnasts and Chinese acrobats was also organised by Ranga.

But why people associate Ranga more with table tennis than with any other discipline despite the proven contribution is the fact that he was at the helm of Table Tennis Federation of India, two decades as Secretary, and seven years as President. Small wonder, Ranga became a respected personality in the world of table tennis. He was elected to the ITTF Council in 1950, and was Vice President for eight years, and continues to be a life member. He is also in the five-member Advisory Committee to the ITTF President. Ranga has never missed a World Championship since his first visit to Budapest in 1950, and attended all the Olympics since 1956, and Asian Games till 1998 in Bangkok. He is the founder of the Asian TT Federation and the Commonwealth TT Federation. His project, the Pentangular tournament involving South East Asian countries, drew tremendous praise from the then President of the ITTF, Ivor Montegu. His regret is that the tournament was allowed to fall by the way side by indifferent administrators.

What Ranga cherishes more than any other achievement is the success gained in forming the Swaythling Cup Trust, which includes top former National champions like Gautam Diwan, Farookh Khodaiji and Niraj Bajaj. The trust ensures a small monthly payment of Rs. 800 to needy players, the list till recently included the former national champion, V. Sivaraman. Among the many, receiving this pension is Mrs. C. K. K. Pillai, former champion and coach.

It is difficult to identify another administrator of sport from this country to have earned so much goodwill both from the national and international community. At the twilight of his life, relaxing in his hometown at Cuddalore, Ranga has a vast panorama of moments and memories to introspect and educate the modern controllers of sport. In more ways than one, Ranga is a unique personality, a one-man army so to say, evoking admiration, appreciation and affection.