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I am lucky that officiating happened to me: Nitin Kannamwar | Tennis News – Times of India

September 21, 2021

PUNE: It is a gamut of emotions for Nitin Kannamwar, the ITF Officiating Officer for Asia-Oceania, when he looks back at his role as the tennis referee for the Tokyo Paralympics.
The Japan assignment marked a major milestone for Kannamwar as he became the first Asian referee at an Olympic event.
“When I look back from where I started, it is a long way. I am happy that the ITF had the confidence in me to give that responsibility. Makes me feel good that they had the faith in me to deliver the event,” the 58-year-old, now back home in Mumbai, told TOI.
“It is a lot of weight on your shoulders. I feel relieved and lighter now that it is off my shoulders. I am happy that we could deliver the event as a team in such an adverse situation,” he said.
Before Japan, Kannamwar, who began officiating in the early 90s and debuted at Wimbledon as a linesman in 1994, had attended four Olympics and two Paralympics besides two Youth Olympics in various roles.
In an interview, the Mumbaikar shares his Tokyo experience and the memorable journey as a tennis official so far:
I was appointed way back in beginning 2019, or maybe it was end of 2018 when I was informed by ITF that they have assigned me as the referee for the Paralympics.
So, the preparation starts two of one and a half years in advance. There are so many areas that you are involved in — not just making the draw and finishing the matches. There are a lot of organising aspects that you as a referee are involved in, where your views are needed, decisions and suggestions are needed.
Our head of officiating at ITF put me through the paces. In 2019, I did my first wheelchair event, which was the World Team Cup in Israel. That was my first exposure to wheelchair tennis, to know the players and the players to know me. It helps when you go into such a huge event, there is a comfort level on both the sides.
You cannot compare Olympics with any other event.
Unless you are working as a referee, you will not find much difference in the way it is run. But when you become a referee, then the whole scope of things that you are involved in becomes huge — the broadcasters; the venue; in this case we didn’t have any spectators, otherwise the interest of the ticket holders; player interests; the weather; the protocols that are required in the Olympics or Paralympics; trying to see that the players don’t have to double up — those challenges are demanding.
The challenges for Paralympics are not that different from other (Olympic events). The only thing you have to remember is that in wheelchair tennis all athletes want to be treated the same as any professional player. The way you approach a wheelchair tennis player and an able-bodied tennis player should be the same.
Of course, there are some special concerns. There is a wheelchair event and then there is quads (in which athletes are restricted in their arm movements as well). In quads, we try to have matches in not too much heat, either at the start or the end of the day.
The toilet or heat breaks are longer. Plus, we have wheelchair repairs. The recovery or turn-around time of matches finishing late in the night and coming back the next day … they would probably require more time than an able-bodied player.
But most of all, it is important to understand the feeling, the emotion and the hard work — extra hard work, I would say — the world level wheelchair tennis players put in day in and day out. It is important to keep that in the back of the mind when you make decisions.
For the Olympics, I was the review official. I had my specified role, but I was already getting ready for the Paralympics — understanding and knowing the venue layout, the protocols and procedures, etc.
Coping up with the weather was the biggest challenge. What we call the Match Schedule Plan (MSP), which we had done one and a half years in advance, had to be altered. And we had to get approval from different committees the scheduling and the broadcasting committees so many bodies we have to go through when we are making changes to the MSP.
We were supposed to start at 11 am every day and then we found out that we cannot play between 11 and 5 because of the heat. The ratio of index figure which calculates apparent temperature and the humidity, if it is above certain level, we have to suspend matches. Forget suspending, we couldn’t event start the matches on the first three days. So, everything was going down from 5.30 pm to midnight.
Then, the last three days we had rain, completely the opposite. It raised our stress levels. Luckily, we had a centre court which had a roof, so that one court kept on playing.
And we had to accommodate TV requests. There were so many broadcasters … the host broadcaster and foreign broadcasters from different time zones.
To bring all this together with the problems we faced with the weather was the biggest challenge. We did that successfully.
The Ariake Park tennis centre was a huge one, almost as big as the whole Shivaji Park. And there was one of the initial days when we had juggled a lot of matches. There was a player whose match was rescheduled to another court and we informed his coach. BUT the coach by mistake gave the wrong time to the player. When the match was called we could not find the player anywhere. Finally, we found him in the locker room. He said he was not aware, and we told him as per rules, after the match is called he should report within 15 minutes.
It takes a while for wheelchair players to get ready. By the time he was on the chair and ready to go, there were hardly four minutes left. We got him on to a golf cart, but the carts had been told to take only one particular route. We needed to go in another direction. I got on to the cart and told the driver, ‘go this way’. He refused to deviate. Finally, I stopped the cart, jumped out of it, asked the player to get off, put him on his chair and I wheeled him so fast, you cannot imagine, and we were just 30 seconds in time from the match being called off (default).
Another day, we were in the medal stages of the matches. We had quad doubles bronze medal match followed by the ceremony. The gold match finished at 2.20 am, because it was raining outside, and we had only the centre court. If we had gone through the medal ceremony it would have been 3 am and we had some of the players playing the singles and doubles the following day.
In Olympics, to cancel a ceremony is a big protocol, that is a different department altogether. Some players who were leaving (Japan) that day were okay to have the ceremony, but we had to make a decision taking into account the players who would be playing the following day. We had to balance the options and finally decided to cancel the ceremony and also pushed the matches of the following day to the next day.
So we had to change the MSP, inform everybody and take approvals from various departments. There are times when you need to be flexible and times when you need to be rigid. Finding that right balance is the most difficult part.
IS HE THE GOAT (God of Officiating in Asian Tennis)?
No, no, no … It is just that I was lucky that officiating happened to me. Being involved in tennis as a player and an official, and then an umpire, has been a journey for me.
I just feel that we I would never say ‘I’ we have created this platform for officials in India.
I have tried in my officiating career to be a teacher to many students that came along and now have become established tennis officials.
I take pride in that I was able help people find their aims and goals in life, and instrumental in creating an awareness among the tennis fraternity that there is an officiating world.
I feel proud to be the first Asian or an Indian to be a referee of an Olympic family event. I hope there will be more Asians coming up in the future who also will share this achievement with me.

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