There is a sense of euphoria among badminton fans and officials
after PV Sindhu over the weekend became the first Indian to be crowned champion at the BWF World Championships and B Sai Praneeth ended the country’s 36-year wait for a men’s singles medal.
Given how short the memories of the Indian sports fans and administrators can be, the two medals at the tournament in Basel could allow them to forget about the dip in the Indian contingent’s performance in 2018 and the absence of a talented second-string.
When a question about the absence of potential candidates to fill the shoes of Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu was put to top Badminton Association of India officials in a recent discussion with Scroll.in, the response was baffling. One of them insisted that there was no dearth of talent and when these two eventually retire, another player will automatically rise to replace them.
Perhaps this kind of succession is possible in political and management circles. But with sports, it’s never that simple. Producing a champion is a long-drawn process that begins with identifying a talented athlete and then charting a road map to success.
Indian badminton has been fortunate to have Nehwal and Sindhu playing together at the same time, as well as a group of men’s shuttlers making their mark on the international stage. They include Sai Praneeth, Kidambi Srikanth and Sameer Verma. But the bench seems bare, with only Lakshya Sen looking capable of carrying on their legacy.
Ever since Assam’s Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma took over as the BAI president last April, he has spoken enthusiastically about starting zonal academies to function as feeder centres for the national elite squad. But there has been little movement to get any of these centres off the ground. Since as the zonal centres require a tri-partite arrangement between the BAI, the state government and the Central government, association officials insist that most of the proposals are being held up at the state government level.
It is difficult to understand is why the BAI wants to spend money building new centres when all it would have to do is identify good private academies with quality infrastructure and give them the status of zonal centres with a team of foreign coaches and allied services. After all, the national camp is held not at a BAI- or government-run establishment but at the privately run Gopichand Academy in Hyderabad.
Compounding the problem of the empty bench is the lack of international exposure of the second-rung of Indian badminton players. These players have frequently urged the authorities to give them more support but there has been little response from the BAI.
Even the Sports Ministry in the recent meeting with the federation asked the BAI to frame a plan to reduce expenditure on senior players who are supported by the government’s TOP (Target Olympic Podium) Scheme and spend that money on the juniors instead.
Chief national coach Pullela Gopichand has already expressed his displeasure about the slow pace at which things are moving. In a recent interview to Scroll.in, he said that his “role is purely ornamental”. The former All England champion noted that there is no system to nurture talent, while the lack of quality coaches is a problem that neither BAI not Sports Authority of India has been managed to solve.
While India rightly celebrate the success of Sindhu and Sai Praneeth, the BAI needs to understand that legacies are not created by solitary successes but by building a system that keeps producing champions.