The Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) has sought national coach Soumyadeep Roy's response to Manika Batra's charges and its executive council is expected to meet on September 11 to deliberate on the matter. An inquiry committee too is likely to be set up to examine the charges.
Following a show-cause notice issued by the TTFI over Manika turning down Roy's assistance during her singles matches at the Tokyo Olympics, the world no. 65 had alleged that she had been asked to throw her match by the said coach earlier this year to ease the qualification path for fellow Indian player, Sutirtha Mukherjee. Roy, in addition to serving as national coach is also coach to Sutirtha and trains her at his private academy in Kolkata.
The standoff between TTFI and Manika remains on a simmer.
These are the key flashpoints of the tussle --
Charges of 'match throwing' pressure
In her response dated August 26 to TTFI's show-cause notice, Manika has alleged that she was "pressurized to concede" her match by the national coach at the qualification tournament in March so that "his student" (Sutirtha) could qualify for the Olympics. She mentions having then "promptly reported the matter to a TTFI official" and also claims to be in possession of evidence to corroborate her accusation.
Speaking to ESPN, TTFI general secretary Arun Banerjee said that Roy has been asked to respond to the charges. "The question is why Manika waited until after the Olympics to bring up this issue? We have no knowledge of her having informed us in March of such an incident. We will set up an inquiry committee and examine all the charges."
TTFI adviser MP Singh was of the view that even if such a request was made by Roy, it wasn't entirely out of line. "It's a practice that takes place worldwide to maximize a country's participation at a Games. If one player's qualification is assured, across sport and countries usually the idea is to offer a chance to a fellow country-mate who is yet to qualify. At this point of course they are just allegations. TTFI will wait for Roy's response. Only then can any decision be arrived upon."
After her personal coach Sanmay Paranjape wasn't allowed Field of Play (FOP) access during the Tokyo Olympics, Manika mentions in her response that national coach Roy asked her minutes before her first-round match if he could sit in her corner instead. She turned down the offer and notes that she felt: it was better to have "no coach at all" than to be "demoralized" by the presence of a coach who had pressured her four months ago to "fix a match in favor of his student."
She goes on to note that she had not objected to his presence during her mixed doubles matches with Sharath Kamal but was well within her rights to take a call for her singles matches. Manika also speaks of a "history of pressure tactics from the same coach" and being coerced into signing a letter in February 2020 recommending his name for the position of national coach.
"To describe Roy as a personal coach is unfair," says Banerjee, "He is a national coach and belongs to all players equally."
In a circular dated August 4, TTFI announced its decision to make national camps mandatory for all chosen players, without room for "exception" or "leniency". Among the nine-pointer regulations listed are players' mandatory attendance, "from Day 1 till the end of the camp" and "only the players that are part of a national camp before a specific tournament" to be considered eligible for selection.
G Sathiyan and Manika had sought exemption from the camp for the Asian Championships which got underway in Sonepat on September 2. While Manika expressed her desire to continue training at her base in Pune, Sathiyan is presently away playing in the Polish Superliga. Sutirtha too has excused herself from the camp on health grounds. According to the new regulations, for a player to be exempted on medical grounds, he/she must obtain a certificate from the SAI panel of doctors. Sutirtha, Singh says, has fulfilled that criteria.
Two days ago, Sathiyan changed his mind and informed TTFI that he will be joining the camp, halfway through it on September 11, which has been accepted by the federation.
Both Manika and Sathiyan have had encouraging recent results. Sathiyan won the Czech Open singles title and together with Manika, finished as mixed doubles champions at the WTT Contender in Budapest last month. In the women's singles event at the tournament, Manika went as far as the semifinals. She is, however, yet to make herself available for the camp and it remains to be seen how the TTFI deals with the situation involving India's star player.