‘Age is just a number for me’

Q&A with Vinay Chopra – the veteran Table Tennis champ – by Humra Quraishi

Though in his 60s, Vinay Chopra –  the veteran  Table  Tennis  champ – is still going strong. Tournament after tournament for him! So what is the mantra for his being so agile at the age when many might consider slowing down. Following are the excerpts from the interview:

What got you to table tennis …and in such a passionate way that you have been playing all through these years or shall we say decades?

Ans: I think any Game in Sport comes from within; either one is born with a particular talent or one inherits it. As for me, I became passionate about the game of TT from my school days since the age of 11. Moreover it was one of the sports promoted in the school I studied and that is where I used to play a lot, practice and started participating in different tournaments. My first achievement was when I became National Champion at the age of 15 years in Allahabad.

So basically it’s because of winning so many tournaments and representing my school initially that helped me get more passionate and motivated me to keep playing for my school and for Delhi which led me to playing for so many years for domestic as well as international tournaments wherein I have always achieved success and won laurels.

How did you manage to do all  the  required balancing – with school and academics and later with a full-time job ?

The school saw that I was very good at the game and in fact many tournaments were promoted by the school itself. So the school gave me enough time to practice and attend the tournaments, especially inter-school tournaments. During my free time, I would study. There were teachers and friends who helped with my notes in different subjects which made it easy for me during my exams. A lot of support came from my school so that I could do well both in TT as well as in school. I graduated from SRCC on the basis of sports and represented in the game of TT from the college too.

As regards my job in CWC (Central Warehousing Corporation), I was selected on the basis of my sports skill. So I was given permission to work for half a day and the rest was put into practice or travel to different cities for tournaments. The office supported me financially with regards to my trips as well as my TT kits to play within India and abroad too. There were public sector TT tournaments too in which I had to perform and in fact bagged the most trophies for my office. So, basically I got a lot of support from all my institutions and was able to balance my academics when in school and college as well as my full time job.

You are in your early 60s but still going strong. Comment.

I think age is just a number. I am in my 60s and still going strong and achieving success in this age makes me strongly motivated. I never think that I am getting old or I have crossed my 60s but I just believe that as long as my legs and hands support me I will continue playing and keep working hard to always achieve and aim to beat my opponents. For my age, I am ready to face any age group, even youngsters for that matter, as it helps me to improve and play better. It’s vice-a-versa that youngsters too want to practice and play with me knowing I am good at my game. Even my regular fitness regime helps me.

There must have been setbacks and disappointments in life. How did you deal with those tough or low phases?

Yes, I have had my bit of tough times and low phases in life, be it personal or anything to do with my games, but I never allowed these moments to come in the way of my games. There have been setbacks and disappointments. But I needed to believe that sometimes you lose and sometimes one wins. This is part of the game and life as it comes which I am always ready to face. Losing a game always made me think over the mistakes I made. It’s through mistakes that one tends to realise what went wrong and you try to work towards mending those mistakes so that they are not repeated. I always try to put away the bad times of my life or disappointments behind my head, especially when playing crucial games at important tournaments. I am ready to face challenges in life and still continue dealing with them.

Do you believe in the cliched term – a woman behind every successful man.  How supportive is your wife?

Yes, definitely! I do believe that behind every successful man is a woman. I think a lot of support comes from one’s better half, especially a wife. But this happens when our views click. Especially, when it comes to our common interests, being like-minded in our line of thinking and understanding.

As much as I am passionate about my game in table tennis, my wife has been equally enthusiastic since the time we were married. She’s been very supportive and in fact has also been accompanying me on many of my trips for my tournaments. In fact she has represented in some tournaments as my coach too. On winning my games, at times, I believe that her presence brings me luck.

Why is it that in our country, cricket overtakes all other games?

Cricket is a sport which probably started much before TT could be recognised as a sport. Cricket was also promoted by many schools and colleges which slowly gained popularity all over the world, especially when it first started in the UK. It became a worldwide entertainment for youngsters wherein media and companies too started sponsoring the game in a big way and paying the players a lot of money for advertising. A lot of prize money is involved in the game of cricket, so every youngster wants to be a cricketer and is watching the game closely. Partially, it’s because of cricket that the economy too is growing because big multinational companies, celebrities are sponsoring players and buying off teams to represent, especially in tournaments like IPL. The government too is supporting the game with the largest cricket body of India i.e., the BCCI, so naturally the sport is given a lot of exposure in a big way. So basically, one could say cricket has become a status symbol in India. It is seen as a sport for the affluent and is associated with wealth and success. The game has become a way for many Indians to showcase their social status and has even led to the formation of celebrity cricket leagues and that’s why more importance is given to cricket than all the other sports.

You  have  been playing abroad  and also in the country. In which country is table tennis the most popular sport, especially amongst the youngsters?

Although the game originated in England in the early days of the 20th century and was originally called Ping-Pong, a trade name. The name table tennis was adopted in 1921–22 when the old Ping-Pong Association, formed in 1902, was revived and is now best known as Table Tennis. But today, Table Tennis is most popular in China. In fact it is the country’s national game and there are players who start playing from a very young age of 5/6 years. The best players are from China who are very professional and usually are among the top ranking players in the world.

Table tennis seems like a low cost, no-fuss game. With that in the backdrop, shouldn’t it get promoted in smaller towns and also in the schools and colleges situated in the conflict zones?

TT is no more a low cost or a no-fuss sport. The cost of the TT rubbers of different kinds and the racquets and balls are expensive and usually need to be replaced every two months. Initially, the sport was not so popular or promoted by sports authorities or the government, but today it is widely promoted by schools, colleges and sports bodies in every state in many countries even in backward areas or conflict zones. Colleges are also admitting students having talents in sport and table tennis is one of the sports. If a student has performed well in tournaments and has good skills of playing TT, he or she is given admission in a particular college under sports category.

It seems that table tennis hasn’t really received the significance and promotion it deserves. In your opinion, what’s the reason for this? Also, what more efforts should be made to highlight the game?

Initially in India, importance was given to cricket because of its popularity. Even today, cricket is promoted in a big way probably due to wealthy people and big multinational companies sponsoring the game so other sports did not receive much publicity. Slowly and gradually when the game was promoted in other countries, it slowly started getting popular in India also. Many schools and colleges too started promoting the game for school children and college students. Now, the game is very popular and many national and international tournaments too are being held for all age groups and even for veterans. As government bodies and sports governing bodies sponsor more tournaments and national and international level competitions are held across the country, the greater significance the sport of table tennis will gain, and its prominence can be highlighted.