India’s top badminton doubles players have criticised the sport’s governing body in the country for its “discrimination” while rewarding the winners of the junior national championship in Guwahati.
The two Under-19 singles champions at the recently concluded tournament were awarded a Maruti Suzuki Alto car, while the doubles champions came home with a collective prize purse of Rs 52,000, or Rs 26,000 per player.
Senior doubles players such as Ashwini Ponnappa and N Sikki Reddy took to Twitter to hit out against the Badminton Association of India after The Field wrote about the matter.
While Ponnappa said that this was not the first time such a thing had happened in the national circuit, Reddy asked the BAI to “stop this discrimination” and also pointed out that even senior doubles players are not being recognised in India, let alone juniors.
Pranaav Jerry Chopra, ranked 18th in the world in mixed doubles with Sikki, said that he had experienced the same during a senior national championship in 2010, which was also in Guwahati. However, he did not take it up with the authorities at the time because he was still a junior – he was 18 years old – and did not want to attract any trouble from the association by speaking out.
If the BAI or sponsors wanted to award cars, they should have given them to the best performing player rather than just the singles champions, Chopra said.
“There can be only one or two best performers in a tournament. At the junior Nationals, there were players who won two titles, so they should perhaps have been awarded cars,” he told The Field.
While Aakarshi Kashyap, who won the Under-17 and Under-19 girls singles titles, got a car, Mithula UK (U-19 girls doubles and mixed doubles champion) and Vishnuvardhan Goud P (U-17 and U-19 boys doubles champion) did not.
“At least give the doubles champions an equivalent amount as cash prize,” Chopra added.
One of India’s most successful doubles players, Jwala Gutta, said that the discrimination between singles and doubles is a long-standing issue and one she has spoken out against several times during her career but to no avail.
“When I spoke, nobody paid attention to it,” Gutta told The Field. “They were like, ‘Jwala is again angry. Jwala is a rebel.’ The headlines used to say, ‘Jwala ko phir gussa aaya.’ Kyun gussa nahi aayega? Why won’t I be angry? Nothing has changed. There is a lot of double standards and hypocrisy. I’m not really surprised.”
Gutta also said that India would never have got a specialist doubles coach, Tan Kim Her, had she not pushed for it. “I was pushing for a doubles coach since after the London Olympics, but Tan was hired only a year prior to the Rio Olympics,” she said. “I was in the world’s top 10 but I did not ever get a personal trainer and coach. Olympic Gold Quest has been supporting PV Sindhu for the last seven years. That’s just how it is.”
Chopra, however, said that things have improved in the last couple of years in terms of parity in prize money between singles and doubles. “Earlier, if singles champions got a cash prize of Rs 1 lakh, doubles players would only get Rs 30,000 or Rs 40,000,” he said. “But now that has changed, so no one expected this to happen at the junior Nationals this year.”
Chopra added that the country’s top doubles players should take up the matter when they next meet BAI President Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma. “Myself, Sikki, Ashwini, Manu [Attri], Sumeeth [Reddy], Satwik [Rankireddy] and Chirag [Shetty] usually attend meetings with the president and this should be taken up then,” he said.
The Field tried contacting the Assam Badminton Association, which organised the junior Nationals, for a response to the controversy but was unsuccessful.