NEW DELHI: Uncertainty and Chaos. That’s India’s leading table tennis player, G Sathiyan‘s current state of mind.
Visa trouble and restrictions on international flight movement, even with countries with which India has secured the air travel bubble for commercial passenger operation, have thrown a spanner in Sathiyan’s Tokyo Olympic preparation, even as the World No. 32 anxiously arranges his papers for travel to Poland and Japan in October-November to participate in two professional private leagues.
Sathiyan, country’s second-best ranked player, told TOI recently that he hoped to talk his way through the Polish table tennis federation (PTTF) and authorities governing sports in India to make certain air travel exemptions for him, so that he could fly out to Poland in mid-October to represent his club, Sokolow S.A. Jaroslaw in Polish Superliga, with which he’s contracted to play four competitive matches on a ‘play and pay’ basis. The Indian later plans to travel to Japan to compete for the Okayama Rivets side in the Japanese T-League, starting November 18. The 27-year-old from Chennai had signed up a 12-match contract with the Japanese league in January this year.
The problem is: India has established travel bubbles with 13 countries, including France, Germany in Europe and Japan, which is the newest entrant. India has also secured the ‘air bridge’ with the US, UK, UAE and Qatar. However, these four countries have no restrictions on any kind of air travel, be it for tourists or any other business or sports activity purpose. But, in the case of France, Germany and Japan, these nations have been offering visas to Indians only for permanent employment and study. So, Sathiyan can’t travel to these two destinations on sporting grounds to participate in leagues.
“I have approached my club Jaroslaw to get me an invitation letter from the PTTF. I would then formally write to the sports ministry and the SAI’s Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) to take up my case with the concerned authorities, considering my participation is based out of my need to prepare for the Tokyo Games. I understand that everything has to be operated within the guidelines issued by the ministry of home affairs (MHA) on account of covid-19 pandemic. But I hope that I’ll be allowed to travel to Europe as we urgently require some game time under our belt with no international table tennis tournaments scheduled this year. I just need to get to Germany and from there I can go to Poland. All 22 European nations accept the same Schengen visa, but the problem right now is that they aren’t allowing category ‘C’ Schengen visa,” said Sathiyan, who stands a bright chance to qualify for Tokyo in individual competition. Sathiyan aims to return back after playing in Polish Superliga and then apply for Japanese visa to reach Tokyo on time ahead of the league’s November 18 start.
“Leagues in Europe have commenced and the players have started training for Tokyo. We Indians and Asians are at disadvantage for not being able to play any kind of competitive matches in the last seven months. We have only been practicing at our respective places, at academies and clubs. I hope the authorities will make some exceptions for me and allow me to travel. The quality of competition in Japan will be top-notch as the national team players from Korea, Japan and China will be coming to participate,” he stated. Sathiyan had the Schengen work visa when he played for the German Bundesliga last year and competed in a lot of professional matches.
Sathiyan explained that there’s a difference between the badminton players travelling to Denmark for the Danisa Open from October 13-18 or tennis doubles star Rohan Bopanna flying to Italy for Rome Masters and him requesting a trip to Poland. “Those are different cases because they are representing the country in international competitions, which are recognised by their respective national and international federations. Rohan received an invitation letter to participate from the Italian tennis federation and the Italian government has been allowing athletes coming to participate in Rome. In my case, this is a private club-level league where I am going on an individual basis. So, that’s the difference.”
Sathiyan informed the last seven months had been challenging both physically and mentally for him, not being able to play the game competitively. “I have resumed my practice from July 9, so it’s been more than two months. I am feeling much better now and match-ready. I am training with my coach Subramaniam Raman at his high-performance centre in Chennai. We have been simulating, playing practice matches at the club.”

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