The Table Tennis Federation of India secretary general MP Singh on Friday said former head coach Massimo Costantini kept “us” in dark over his sudden departure and promised to fill the position lying vacant for 18 months on the sidelines of the World Championships in Busan next month.

The Indian paddlers, who are playing without a head coach since September 2018, have already lost crucial time in an Olympic year, though they have only themselves to blame for their below par performance in the Olympic team qualifier in Portugal last month.

Singh said Costantini, who now works for the wold body, should have communicated his decision to leave after the 2018 Asian Games well in advance.

“Most teams employ coaches for a four-year Olympic cycle, Singh said. “So when he suddenly left, we had only limited options to choose from and even that did not work out for us.

“Going forward, we have decided to hire a coach for four years instead of renewing his contract every year. We have also got the sports ministry’s approval for that.”

Uncontrollable circumstances, such as the 2019 general elections and surgery of Canadian coach Dejan Papic, who did not join the Indian team last year after accepting the offer due to a knee surgery, have also contributed to the delay in the appointment of the head coach.

Notwithstanding their disappointing performance in the Olympic team qualifiers, the Indian paddlers have done exceedingly well in the last 18 months to raise the profile of the sport in the country.

Manika Batra won four medals, including two gold at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games before India secured two historic bronze medals at the subsequent Asian Games, ending a 60-year wait.

Three Indians – G Sathiyan (world rank 30), Sharath Kamal (rank 34) and Harmeet Desai (rank 86) – are in the top-100 and a decent bench strength has been developed in the men’s team.

But with Olympics round the corner and players in need of guidance, the momentum gained over the past 18 months seems to be losing ground.

“I am confident that by next month, we would have zeroed in on the coach, he said. “The women’s team narrowly missed out on an Olympic berth but played well. However, the men’s team, which should have qualified, crumbled under pressure.”

The players will now aim to qualify for the singles event at the Olympics. The singles qualifying event will be held in April.