Indian Diplomacy

A Diplomatic Effort: Tennis for Toilets

Four foreign diplomats have lead a unique diplomatic effort to help India in its mission to build toilets and end open defecation.

Bosnian Ambassador Sabit Subsic, Serbian Ambassdor Vladimir Marić,

(L-R) Bosnian Ambassador Sabit Subsic, Chilean Ambassador Andrés Barbé González, Guatemalan Ambassador Georges de la Roches and Serbian Ambassador Vladimir Marić. Credit: Sulabh International

New Delhi: The Serbian embassy in Delhi had perhaps not seen a draw this big in a long time. The prime location – the main avenue of the diplomatic district – was a legacy of Nehru’s special friendship with Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia. Since the breakup of Yugoslavia, the large building has been the sole possession of the smaller successor state, Serbia.

On Sunday, April 18, the extensive back lawns were the scene of an innovative charity event, hatched by four foreign ambassadors to India as they played on the clay tennis court about a year ago.

It was just another regular game between the four envoys – with the Bosnian and Serbian envoys teaming up against the Guatemalan and Chilean top diplomats. “Mostly, they would win. But mainly because the Serbian ambassador is very tall,” said Guatemalan Ambassador Georges de la Roches, tongue-in-cheek.

According to de la Roches, Serbian ambassador Vladimir Marić, was the first to think of doing something for charity through a tennis tournament, while Bosnian Ambassador Sabit Subasic suggested that the donation should be for something that was evident even in a posh south Delhi colony, which is a haven for diplomatic personnel.

“He (Subasic) said that he saw during walks in Vasant Vihar that there was a lack of toilets, (and) that we (should) buy port-a-potties, community toilets. I felt that it was better to donate to NGO Sulabh who are wonderful in creating awareness, public relations,” de la Roches said.

That was the start of the year-long process that ended on a balmy evening on April 17, with Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju giving away the awards for the event.

The cause was keeping with the Indian government’s flagship ‘Swacch Bharat’ programme, with construction of toilets being an integral part of the plan. The latest finding of National Sample Survey Office clearly indicates that construction of community toilets is a game-changer for any small society, sharply bringing down open defecation.

With a catchy title, TennisforToilets, the novel addition on Delhi’s diplomatic calendar got a rather large number of applicants, especially after the invitation letter was sent out to all foreign missions with the signatures of the four envoys, the US ambassador and the Canadian high commissioner.

Around 48 players – 24 doubles teams – played in randomly-allotted matches on April 16 to whittle down to the final four.

On Sunday, playing under floodlights, Chilean Ambassador Andrés Barbé González and his partner, Indian businessman Aditya Khanna, defeated a much younger team from the Japanese embassy 6-4.

Most players had paid an entrance, depending on their category – head of mission, an embassy official or an Indian businessman. Many Indian and multinational firms too came forward to sponsor advertisements at the event.

The total tally from the event was $39,000 and it is still rising. “I had thought that $20,000 would be a respectable amount, but the response has been much more than we expected,” de la Roches said, adding that they plan to bring back the tournament next year.