Wasn’t asking for something I didn’t deserve: After selection saga, Chitale ready for CWG challenge

Table Tennis

Chitale and her team felt that she had much better results than Kamath, who was knocked out in the Round of 32 at the 83rd Senior Nationals.

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Shared News: June 9, 2022 7:57:18 am
Chitale was included in the Indian team for next month’s Commonwealth Games. (Express photo)

Diya Chitale was 12 when she had to make a choice: to either continue going unchallenged at the district and state levels or get out of her comfort zone so as to reach the highest level of her sport, table tennis.

She chose the latter. Even if it meant making a myriad of sacrifices: staying in Germany for almost five months a year, away from family and friends, adapting to a new lifestyle, changing food habits and working endlessly to be in top physical shape all the time.

On Monday, those sacrifices seem to have paid off. Now 19, Chitale was included in the Indian team for next month’s Commonwealth Games. It caps off a whirlwind two weeks for Chitale, who is considered to be one of the most promising young players in the country.

On May 31, the Committee of Administrators that has been tasked with running the day-to-day affairs of the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) controversially left Chitale out of the provisional squad. Instead, they approved the selection of Archana Kamath even though she did not meet the criteria.

Days later, following a petition filed by Chitale in the Delhi High Court and an intervention by the Sports Authority of India, she was included in the team. “I felt I deserved to be a part of the team,” Chitale told The Indian Express. “This wasn’t against any individual.” It’s not been easy for Chitale. But then, it’s never been.

Since 2015, together with her coach from Mumbai, Sachin Shetty, she would travel to Germany to train under the renowned German player-turned-coach Peter Engel, who also coached the Indian national team. Training abroad and travelling all over for competitions also meant that her family would have to spend about Rs 30-40 lakh annually, but it was an ‘investment’ her parents were willing to make.

Under the guidance of Shetty and Engel, she blossomed into a fearsome TT player. She had an incredible last season, winning bronze medals in WTT Youth Contender Tournaments. She even won the U-19 title in Peru last month. Last year, she competed in the senior women’s category and scaled to the top of the rankings in India before ending the season as No. 3.

‘Not afraid’

Eight-time national champion and former India coach Kamlesh Mehta, who has seen Chitale from close quarters, said she was ‘not afraid of taking on opponents much more experienced than her’, which made her special.

“Diya’s performance speaks louder than any opinion. She is a committed girl. If she’s told not to eat something, she won’t. If she’s told to go off to sleep by this time, she will. On the table, too, I’ve rarely seen her relax or play casually. She’s fully focused, sincere and dedicated. Though she could defend her U-18 title, she decided to focus on the senior category,” Mehta said.

But when Chitale saw that her name did not feature in the main team for the CWG, she was heartbroken. “I was very disappointed. I had worked really very hard for it. Representing India was always my dream and it was my goal to be part of the CWG team,” she told The Indian Express. “Last year I had very good results. I won the national rankings at Indore and was also India’s No. 3.”

Chitale and her team felt that she had much better results than Kamath, who was knocked out in the Round of 32 at the 83rd Senior Nationals. But the CoA, according to reports, argued that Kamath had a ‘better chance’ of winning a medal by pairing with Manika Batra.

Approaching High Court

When her father, Parag, got to know of the provisional team, he immediately shot off a letter to the CoA, requesting them to reconsider the team and stating reasons why Chitale should be included in the team. When he didn’t get a response, he approached the Delhi High Court and filed a writ petition.

Chitale finally got relief on Monday when the Sports Ministry told the CoA that squad selection was the responsibility of the national sports federation. The selection committee, chaired by CoA member SD Mudgil, met later on Monday to finalise the team.

Better sense prevailed and the selectors replaced Kamath with Chitale in the squad. In fact, the Committee completely omitted Kamath from the squad, putting Swastika Ghosh on standby. When The Media reached out to Kamath, her dad said she was taking time to gather her thoughts and will then decide on the next course of action.

Chitale was elated with the decision, which means she will finally get her chance to represent India. She’s also quite excited about the prospect of partnering with Batra at the Games. When asked if this reversal puts a little pressure on her, Chitale said she just wants to do the best for the country. “There’s no pressure,” she said. “I wasn’t asking for something I didn’t deserve.”