Badminton chief national coach Pullela Gopichand’s comment that if he only keeps travelling for international tournaments with the big stars then there wouldn’t be a supply line of future players may be interpreted in many ways.

There is already talk within the badminton circle that he is concentrating more on his daughter, Gayatri, who is starting to make an impact on the domestic senior circuit, while there have been rumours about how things are not really rosy between him and the top players, something PV Sindhu was compelled to deny recently.

And the absence of any remarkable performance by the top Indian shuttlers in 2019 has only compounded the issue and everyone is left wondering what exactly has gone wrong.

While a lot has been written about the reasons behind the failure of top shuttlers in winning major international titles, the bigger concern should be the absence of a strong supply line to take over from the likes of Saina Nehwal, Parupalli Kashyap and others who are already in the twilight of their careers. And this is where Gopichand’s comments about his absence from the BWF circuit are an indicator of a bigger malaise that the Badminton Association of India had failed to diagnose and find a cure for.

It is true that Gopichand, as he pointed out, has preferred to travel less with the top players every alternate year since 2008 and it worked in the past as Sindhu and Srikanth benefited from him being around. But the dynamics have clearly changed, with the sport growing leaps and bounds in the last few years, and everyone has been found napping.

The way BAI has gone about building the next generation of Indian badminton players can be explained by the informal discussion I once had with a very high ranking official. When asked about why we can’t see anyone on the horizon to carry the baton after Nehwal and Sindhu, the official said that someone would emerge when these two stop playing and youngsters will step up when the opportunity presents itself.

This may be true in management and political context where someone or the other steps up to fill the void. But the same logic cannot work in sports as no player can raise the bar overnight without a systematic approach that focuses on building a robust supply line.

And this is where BAI has clearly failed and as the chief coach, Gopichand would also have to take the blame for the same.

While the rise of Nehwal, Sindhu or for that matter even Srikanth, Prannoy, B Sai Praneeth and others was dew to a systematic approach to their training and tournament schedule from 2006-07 where they were sent for relevant exposure tours early in their career, all that has gone missing in the last few years for the next generation shuttlers.

The up and coming players have been complaining for over a year now about how those outside world ranking of 25 have not been sent to international tournaments and that has put the breaks on their development as not all of them can afford to play tournaments at their own cost consistently.

It is a known fact that Gopichand and some of the BAI office-bearers have not been on the same page about the road forward for Indian badminton for quite sometime now and that has led to a policy paralysis where no one is really thinking of the long term solutions to the problems within Indian badminton.

The new tournament-based selection criteria decided to make the process transparent has meant that the coaches have no leeway left to invest in any players they feel can be built for the future by providing more exposure. The other flaws of this system were also highlighted in these pages earlier.

Even the national camps suffered a lot till the arrival of the four foreign coaches since there were not enough coaches to work with the group in the camps as neither the BAI nor Sports Authority of India has a clear policy on how to rope in more Indian coaches in the system.

Two years ago, BAI appointed Sanjay Mishra as the junior national coach but hasn’t given him a team or a plan to build the next generation of shuttlers. Junior camps are only held in the run-up to major international event. Also, neither the selectors nor the top coaches travel for domestic junior tournaments to identify fresh talent.

BAI president Hemanta Biswa Sarma has been speaking of starting regional academies across India to tap in new talent but those plans are yet to materialise. But till then, the sports government body could have created a system to ulitise the services of grass-root level coaches, who have produced state and national level players.

Merely sending them for international tournaments once in a few years as a dole is not the way. Instead, resources should be invested in providing them training in sports science and new coaching techniques while the BAI-hired coaching and support staff should be in touch with these coaches to widen the net.

It is humanly impossible for Gopichand to do all this all by himself as even he admits that giving time to the current bunch of top shuttlers is in itself an enormous task and he hardly got time to focus on the system during the last year.

By not travelling with the likes of Sindhu, Nehwal and others this year, Gopichand may get more time to work with the second rung players who are already in the national camps or at his academy and help them improve a lot in these coming six months.

But among them, there is no one really who inspires the confidence that they can carry the baton from India’s most successful group of badminton players. Producing a Nehwal or Sindhu needs investment in a player for years not months. It needs a systematic overhaul, not just the chief national coach outsourcing the job of traveling coach to the foreign coaches and his assistants.

Hopefully someone in BAI is seriously thinking on those lines.