INCING CLOSER to the much-anticipated inaugural edition of the Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT), India’s newest franchise-based professional sports league, 24 foreign players and 24 Indian players (both men and women) were drafted into six different franchises today at the NSCI, UTT venue partner.
There were representatives from all key stakeholders of UTT - Vita Dani Chairperson, 11Even Sports Pvt. Ltd ; Niraj Bajaj, Co- Promoter, UTT; Minan Bajaj, GC Member, UTT; Sundar Raman, CEO, IMG- Reliance; Kamlesh Mehta, Director 11Even Sports Pvt. Ltd.; Jayantilal Shah, President NSCI Mumbai and Delhi; Rakesh Malhotra, Secretary NSCI Mumbai; Rajeev Bodas, Senior Vice President TTFI.
Top shots Wong Chun Ting of Hong Kong, who is World No.7 and also the Bronze Medalist in the mixed doubles event at the recently-concluded World Championships in Dusseldorf was bagged by Maharashtra United, while second highest ranked in the men's category Marcos Freitas of Portugal will play for Dabang Smashers and India’s Sharath Kamal who was among the major attractions in men will turn up for RP-SG Mavericks.
Among the 24 foreign players, 21 of them are Olympians with iconic women players Han Ying of Germany and Wu Yang of China in the fray. Highest ranked women's player Han Ying will play for Challengers while Wu Yang, the only player from China, will represent Bayside Spinners.
On the other hand, Oilmax-Stag Yoddhas picked Doo Hoi Kem who had teamed up with Wong Chun Ting to win the Bronze Medal in the mixed doubles at the 2017 World Championships. Soumyajit Ghosh who is the youngest Indian Olympian in the fray was picked by Challengers. Meanwhile World No.37 Li Qian who had to pull out due to health issues is now replaced by World No. 55 Sofia Polcanova from Austria and she was drafted into RP-SG Mavericks. India's No.1 women's player Madhurika Patkar who was present at the Players Draft, stated,
“I am excited to be selected by the Dabang Smashers for the Ultimate Table Tennis. The team has good players and I'm thrilled to play alongside them. This league will definitely help the sport prosper in India. The four Indian players in my team are from ONGC so it already seems like a good mix to me."
Harmeet Desai, India No.4 in men's category, who was also at the NSCI for the event said,
"The Ultimate Table Tennis will offer a great exposure to our Indian players to play along side top ranking foreign players and also to be trained by the foreign coaches. I am really looking forward to the league."
The Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT) scheduled to begin in July promises to be a sporting breakthrough with six top franchises confirming their participation. Unlike other major sporting leagues being run in the country currently like IPL and ISL, UTT will have club based franchises rather than city based franchises.
The six franchises currently on board for the inaugural season who were present at the player draft include: Dabang Smashers T.T.C owned by Mrs. Radha Kapoor Khanna of DolT Sports; RP-SG Mavericks by Mr. Sanjiv Goenka of RP-SG Group; Maharashtra United by Mr. Kapil and Mr. Dheeraj Wadhawan of Rajesh Wadhawan Group; Bayside Spinners T.T.C owned by Mr. Sameer Koticha of ASK Group and Oilmax-Stag Yoddhas by Mr. Kapil Garg and Mr. Vivek Kohli and the sixth franchise to come onboard is Challengers owned by Vivek Bhargava.
The inaugural season will be played from July 13 to July 30, 2017 at state-of-the-art facilities in Chennai, Delhi and Mumbai. The first two legs will be held in Chennai and Delhi before UTT shifts base to Mumbai for the Finale. Each franchise will comprise of a combination of overseas and Indian players- four men and four women, along with one Indian and one International Coach each. Vita Dani, Promoter of UTT and Chairperson, 11Even Sports Pvt Ltd. stated,
“The player draft was extremely eventful today. It was overwhelming to see that all franchises had in-depth knowledge of every player and strategized accordingly to select players for their team. At the end of the draft, all six franchises seem to be well-balanced which means we are in for an exciting and nail-biting action at the Ultimate Table Tennis League.”
Meanwhile, Niraj Bajaj, Co-promoter of UTT as well as a former player, stated,
“This professional league will prove to be one of the best platforms for the Indian players to showcase how good they are to the Indian audience. These are the times when I truly wish I was still playing. The UTT I believe will give a new dimension to our players as they will get to work for close to three weeks with some of the top coaches as well as learn from fellow players in their team. It was interesting to see how the franchises went about the player draft. It’s time the viewers and spectators witness how thrilling a game of table tennis can be.”