No scouting system in Delhi, says former TT player Neha Aggarwal

- June 1, 2024

Olympian Neha Aggarwal highlights the lack of a talent scouting system in Delhi and ongoing challenges despite improved support for table tennis

EARLY EXIT: Neha Aggarwal quit playing table tennis when she was in her mid-20s PHOTO: GETTY

Delhi Olympian and multiple medal winner at the international level, Neha Aggarwal, believes that the next generation in the metro cities is not hungry to excel at the international sporting events. 

“Young generation in big cities across the country is more into academics. Sports is not on their mind,” she told Patriot over phone from Mumbai.  

Neha was Delhi’s leading female table tennis player in early 2000s. Apart from winning multiple medals at the international level, she went on to represent India at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.  

“When I was playing table tennis, it wasn’t even at amateur level in Delhi. It was not a priority sport,” recalled the Olympian. 

“It was challenging to pursue table tennis as there were fewer facilities. There was no structured system and there were only two or three good coaches in Delhi.” 

According to Neha, she was the lone female table tennis player from Delhi doing well at the national circuit in early 2000s. 

“There was also pressure to perform. At the same time, it was a learning process,” added the former player, who won team bronze at the Commonwealth Table Tennis Championships in 2013 and gold in doubles at Commonwealth Youth Games in 2009. 

Neha and Manika [Batra] had a common coach (Sandeep Gupta). In fact, both Neha and Manika trained together. 

When Manika was making her presence felt at the national level in the 2013-2014 season, Neha was planning to look beyond sporting career. 

“Things have changed a lot. There is more financial support and international exposure for the core group of table tennis players nowadays,” Neha explained. “But still there is no talent scouting system in Delhi.”

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There is no female table tennis player in Delhi following in Manika Batra’s footsteps, Neha said. 

“Delhi’s 19 years old Payas Jain is the hottest property these days. He has made good progress in age-group competitions at the international level,” she added.

Neha says she started playing table tennis during her school days. 

There was a local school tournament and it was mandatory for all the students to compete in it, she added. 

“It was the beginning of a long journey into the sporting world,” she added.

Neha went on to win the U-14 national title in 2001, which ended Delhi’s 20-year-long drought of winning medal in table tennis at the national level. 

“Two decades later things have improved but still there is no talent scouting system,” she added.

No financial support 

The Table Tennis Foundation Academy in Delhi’s Swaroop Nagar was set up in 2017 with the goal of churning out players particularly for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games. However, the residential academy shut down in February this year due to lack of financial support, said Jinendra Jain, founder of the academy. Jain was recently elected president of the Delhi Table Tennis Association. 

Jain, a former national level player and an advocate by profession, had appointed foreign experts in the academy to mentor talented players from Delhi as well other states. 

There were eight national-level coaches. But he had to close down the academy as he fell short of financial support. 

“I had to close our residential academy after seven long years,” he said. 

Iryama Koji from Japan and Tibor Bednar of Slovakia were associated with the academy. The academy was also under the Khelo India scheme from October 2020. 

“It was difficult to run the academy as we did not have enough resources to continue,” Jain said.

Jain’s 19-year-old son Payas has made a good impression at the national level. “He (Payas) has won several international age group medals,” the elated father said. “In future I will focus on my son’s performance.”