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This is no child’s play

The Delhi Table Tennis Association obviously doesn’t have enough adults to umpire its matches, as it’s asking children as young as eight to do the job, reports Ajai Masand.

sports Updated: Sep 29, 2008 23:46 IST
Ajai Masand

The Delhi Table Tennis Association obviously doesn’t have enough adults to umpire its matches, as it’s asking children as young as eight to do the job.

That’s unnerving enough, given the kind of stress it puts on the kids, worried about making a mistake on judgment calls and potentially, other players’ careers. But what’s worse is that these children, aged mostly between eight and 10, have now been issued a written gag order (a copy of which is with HT), warning them of dire consequences if they talk to the press. The letter has parents up in arms and protesting to the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI). What has angered them is the DTTA’s issuing ‘threatening letters’ to impressionable minds, already struggling with the stress of performance.

“This is completely ridiculous…the letter is reactive and punitive,” said well-known clinical psychologist Shelja Sen, who works with the Sitaram Bhartia Institute here. The letter, issued on Sept 17 and signed by the new DTTA organising secretary S.K. Jolly reads: "As per rules of the association, any player going to the media without express permission of the association and or/influencing in any anti-association activities, is liable to be suspended and not considered for ranking and his selection in the teams to represent Delhi State at the Zonal/National Championships. We, therefore, deem it our duty to caution you to not fall prey to such pressure and thereby spoil your TT career.”

Sources said a total of around 40 letters were issued to all ranked Delhi players and international paddlers right of ages eight and over. On Monday, a representation of some 20-odd parents reportedly met TTFI secretary-general M.C. Chowhan and handed over a letter of protest. Chowhan, when contacted, said he was busy in a Sports Ministry meeting.

Strangely, when contacted, Jolly said the DTTA did not mean what it had written in the letter. “This is a cautioning and not a threatening letter. This is meant to ensure that the players stay focussed on the game. Moreover, such orders are issued in sports like cricket too.”

Perhaps, but not to eight-year-olds! He had no answer when asked why these letters were issued to children as young as eight, who were unlikely to head to the media with their grievances. Dr Shelja Sen was aghast. “How are 8-9-year-olds expected to approach the media? Rather than taking a proactive role by sitting with parents and clearing doubts, the association will create more rifts and infighting by issuing such letters. There is a serious problem with the association. They should have had a workshop with children and parents and told them what is responsible behaviour. Writing letters to children is irresponsible behaviour. It will definitely put more burden on them.”

Back on the issue of young children as chair umpires, Jolly immediately said the “practice will end from the next tournament onwards”. On whether the DTTA had a shortage of qualified chair umpires, he said the practice “benefits” both association officials and players. "Officials are also preoccupied with other things, while the children get their eyes set on the ball with this practice. Moreover, we give the players conveyance charges."

There was no mention of any counselling for stress.