In a landslide victory for Indian table tennis star Manika Batra, the Delhi High Court on Friday suspended the Table Tennis Federation of India’s (TTFI) executive committee and ordered the appointment of an administrator to run its affairs.
Referring to it as a “sorry state of affairs”, the court noted that it was “appalled” by some of the observations of the three-member enquiry committee (constituted in November) regarding the manner in which TTFI and coach Soumyadeep Roy have been functioning. “After having perused the report in case an administrator is not appointed to run the federation by suspending the executive body the court will be failing in its duties towards sportspersons and the general public,” the court said.
It further observed that the Committee concluded a clear conflict of interest in Roy running a private academy despite being national coach.
Following the ruling, Manika said in a statement that she was “forced to approach the court” after being left with no other choice because she was “subjected to undue pressure and ill treatment” which put her into “huge mental agony”.
The Manika vs TTFI case has run for six months, with plenty of twists and rulings. Here’s a brief timeline of the events:
August 4: TTFI decides to issue a show-cause notice to Manika for refusing Roy’s assistance for her singles matches at the Tokyo Olympics. After her personal coach Sanmay Paranjape wasn’t allowed Field of Play (FOP) access at the Games venue, Manika turned down the prospect of Roy being present in her corner for singles matches. She played all her singles matches without a coach by her side and lost in the third round. For her mixed doubles matches along with Sharath Kamal, however, Roy was present.
August 26: In her response to TTFI’s show-cause notice, Manika alleges that she felt it was better to have “no coach at all” than to be “demoralized” by the presence of one who had asked her to “fix a match in favor of his student” fellow Indian player Sutirtha Mukherjee at the Olympic qualifiers in March 2021. She mentioned having then “promptly reported the matter to a TTFI official” and also claims to be in possession of evidence to corroborate her charges.
September 11: To examine the charges, TTFI sets up a five-member enquiry panel. Three of the five are Executive Committee members and it’s headed by the federation’s vice-president Chiranjib Chaudhari.
September 17: TTFI leaves out Manika from the Asian Championships squad on grounds of skipping the mandatory national camp in Sonepat.
September 19: Manika moves Delhi High Court questioning the federation’s rule that stipulates national camp attendance as a prerequisite for tournament selection. In her plea she alleges that the federation was carrying out selections in an unfair manner and targeting certain individuals. She also accuses Roy of pressuring her to concede her match against Sutirtha so “his student” could qualify for the Olympics.
September 20: HC seeks the Centre’s stand on Manika’s plea and asks the sports ministry to inquire into the management of the federation. Justice Rekha Palli gives the government counsel two days to respond to the petition. On the same day, TTFI reconstitutes its enquiry panel, this time with just three members in all, comprising law expert Parth Goswami, TTFI CEO Dhanraj Chaudhary and headed by retired Justice Kailash Gambhir.
September 23: The Court stays TTFI’s rule on mandatory national camp attendance for international tournament selection. Gives Centre four weeks to conduct an enquiry into the match-fixing allegations raised by the player and submit its report. The court also expresses its anguish at the hurried chop and change by TTFI of its enquiry panel within ten days of constituting it. “They are overreaching the court. I will issue a notice of contempt. I pass an order and you appoint a new person? This is shocking,” Justice Palli said.
In late October, news of the Integrity Unit of sport’s apex body, ITTF looking into Manika’s match-fixing allegations emerged. The Hindu reported on October 27 that among the evidence submitted by TTFI to the world body was a text dated March 19, by Manika’s coach Sanmay to a former player. According to the text reproduced in the report, the coach mentioned “what she (Manika) did for Sutirtha” and that she chose “to help”. It further mentioned a statement from an ITTF Blue Badge Umpire who officiated the Olympic qualifying tournament in Doha and testified that his conversations with Sanmay on the morning of the match between Manika and Sutirtha indicated a foreknowledge that both players would qualify. Had Sutirtha lost that match, her qualification on ranking alone would have been doubtful. Manika went on to lose the match and the result had confirmed Sutirtha’s Tokyo berth.
November 17: Delhi HC directs constitution of a three-member enquiry committee to look into match-fixing allegations leveled by Manika. The three members are — two former Supreme Court judges, Justice Vikramjit Sen and Justice AK Sikri and former athlete Gurbachan Singh Radhawa. The court indicates that based on the committee’s report it would consider appointing an administrator to run the federation. TTFI counsel informs the court that the federation had decided to recall its show-cause notice to Manika along with calling off any further action against her.
February 11: The Court suspends TTFI’s executive committee and orders appointment of administrator stating that TTFI’s conduct “prima facie” appears to be blameworthy as per the report in which the three-member committee observed that the federation has “only been safeguarding the interest of its officials”. “The fact that the court has appointed an administrator and called into question the clear conflict of interest by the coach in question, it’s without doubt that Manika’s plea has been upheld and merit has been found in her allegations,” Manika’s lawyer Akshay Amritanshu said. The court directed the administrator to send a copy of the Committee’s report to the ITTF “so that appropriate action can be taken”.