EVEN AS Delhi girl Neha Aggarwal was slugging it out against Chinese-born Australian paddler Jiang Fang Lay in the first round at Beijing on Monday, she had only team manager, Dhanraj Choudhary, to look up to for coaching tips.
Strange it may seem, but the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) decided to send Aleksey Yefremov, the foreign coach from Belarus, to North Korea with an eight-member team in preparation for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, leaving the two-member contingent of Neha and Achanta Sharath Kamal without a coach.
The table tennis fraternity in Delhi was aghast to see Choudhary on the coach's bench. "How do you expect a girl participating in her first Olympics to win without last-minute coaching support. At least, fellow player and experienced Sharath Kamal (2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games double gold-medallist) could have given her better tips than Choudhary, who is the technical committee chairman of the TTFI," said a senior Delhi TT player on condition on anonymity.
Neha's Olympic debut lasted around 35 minutes but she gave a gritty fight to Fang Lay losing in five sets, 12-10, 8-11, 11-13, 8-11, 4-11. She won the first game and also led in the second before the downslide started.
When contacted in Beijing, TTFI secretary-general, Mool Chand Chowhan, said, "What's wrong in having a manager on the coach's bench?"
When asked why Yefremov was not accompanying the team to the Games, he said, "There are more important things. We have a long-term programme to groom paddlers for the 2010 Commonwealth Games and he is accompanying them to North Korea."
On why Sharath Kamal was not asked to be on the coach's bench, Chowhan said, "Why should we have him there?"
In November last, TTFI vice-president, Probir Mitra, had been quoted as saying, "It's very important for us to defend our Commonwealth gold during the 2010 Delhi Games and also to do well during the Olympics. Yefremov will be training and travelling with our best players like Sharath Kamal and Subhajit Saha."
The question is why was he sent to North Korea, when the best are playing in Beijing?
Former national champion Kamlesh Mehta said the TTFI had nominated him as national coach but the Sports Authority of India (SAI) had not completed the formalities. "Technically, I am still not the TTFI coach," he said.
On Choudhary's qualifications, Mehta said, "He is the most decorated technical official in the country, but I doubt his credentials as coach."
It's a shame that a country that can afford to send hoards of officials to the quadrennial extravaganza, has denied a budding player of a coach's services.