Following a hiatus, the Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT) league has returned for a fourth season this month, and has already produced exhilarating action on the table, involving the desired mix of renowned Indian paddlers and overseas stars.
Speaking to The Quint, promoter of the league, Vita Dani explained how the competition is helping the sport reach unchartered territories in India. Here are excerpts from the interview.
Ultimate Table Tennis has returned after a brief hiatus. What do you make of the comeback so far?
Coming back after two years is true for everybody. The last few years have been difficult for every sport and the entire human race. But we have come back with great excitement from our viewers, and we have come back bigger, better and stronger.
As a promoter of the league, how are you maintaining synchronisation with the franchises to ensure holistic development of the sport?
All the six franchises we have on board are fantastic. In their individual capacity, they have been spreading the word and promoting the league and the sport on several platforms. We have also got a lot of traction in table tennis, so we are building an ecosystem where there is a lot of excitement.
What made you pick this particular sport for starting a league?
Table tennis is played across the world in a widespread manner. It has many benefits – it is great for hand-eye coordination, while new reports say it is also great for developing the brain.
Around the world, the game is played on tables placed in basements. Even in India, it does not require a lot of space to play table tennis. This is a sport that is easy to manage, and also easy to relate to. Some of the top athletes in the world like Sachin Tendulkar, MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh – they all play table tennis. It is a question of one breakthrough. The sport can become aspirations for others to follow.
Besides being the league promoter here, you are also the co-owner of the Indian Super League (ISL) club, Chennaiyin FC. Has that experience helped you in succeeding in this role?
The experience with Chennaiyin FC has taught me a lot of things. Now, as a franchise owner, I always think twice before saying anything to the league (organisers), because I know the other side of the story. I want to inculcate the best practices from various leagues, including ISL, in UTT.
We have seen the rankings of quite a few Indian paddlers skyrocketing since the commencement of the league. Has that always been a target?
Look at the likes of Sharath Kamal, Manika Batra, G Sathiyan, Diya Chitale, Manav Thakkar, Manush Jain – I can go on and on, all of these players are doing so well.
There is a huge difference in the number of Indians in the global top 100 before the start of UTT, and now, after four years. I’m glad that the athletes are benefiting from the league, because at the end of the day, India has to win, not UTT. The Tiranga (tricolour) is the most important thing for every athlete, so the national flag needs to succeed.
In a broader perspective, what is your long-term aspiration from the league?
The most important objective is to make the game more popular. Our tagline is ‘every table is a playground’, and my aim is that if not every, every other child should play table tennis at some point in their childhood. We want people to take to a table, any table – it can be an office table, a study table or even a dining table. Turn the table into an arena and use the energy in a positive way.