Indian Badminton Stars Continue to Falter– Time for a New Impetus
From left:  PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth.
From left: PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth.(Photo: The Quint/Kamran Akhter)

Indian Badminton Stars Continue to Falter– Time for a New Impetus

PV Sindhu enjoyed a good run to the women’s singles final of the Indonesia Open Super Series badminton tournament in Jakarta, but was found wanting when facing Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi across the net in the title clash.

It was not her physical prowess that was tested, but her ability to think on her feet.

We saw that last year as well in the Asian Games women’s singles final, where Sindhu was up against Tai Tzu-Ying of Chinese Taipei.

Such repeated tactical failures, not to speak of the lack of success on the BWF World Tour, lead to questions about whether those coaching the elite players have explored all possibilities in helping them realise their potential.
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There was some talk not too long ago about how India had shaken the Chinese stronghold.

Nothing can be farther from the truth, especially when you consider that the Chinese have won 16 titles on the World Tour this year. Why, even Japan has 14 and Indonesia 10, while India has just the Indonesia Masters women’s singles crown that Saina Nehwal won in January to show.

Of course, India can look at statistics and claim that it has 10 players in the top 100 on the World Badminton Federation men’s singles ranking and eight in the top 100 in the women’s singles charts.

The glaring fact is that barring PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal as well as Kidambi Srikanth, few Indian players promise a breakthrough.
In the last 18 months India have hardly done enough to leave a mark in the badminton circuit.
In the last 18 months India have hardly done enough to leave a mark in the badminton circuit.
(Photo: The Quint)

India’s badminton gained momentum when Saina Nehwal won the Olympic Games bronze medal in London in 2012 and Sindhu topped it with a silver medal in Rio de Janeiro four years later. Yet, the high of 2017 when Srikanth won a clutch of four Super Series titles has receded as a distant memory now in the 18 months.

In 2018, Sameer Verma (right) won the men’s honours in two Super 300 events – while PV Sindhu claimed the women’s singles crown in the World Tour Finals in Shanghai
In 2018, Sameer Verma (right) won the men’s honours in two Super 300 events – while PV Sindhu claimed the women’s singles crown in the World Tour Finals in Shanghai
(Photo: PTI)

Indeed, the slide has been quite palpable. If we considered winning an international title as a benchmark, the drought is quite stark.

Last year, Sameer Verma won the men’s honours in two Super 300 events – while PV Sindhu claimed the women’s singles crown in the World Tour Finals in Shanghai. And this year, Saina Nehwal won the Indonesian Masters, a Super 500 event.

To be sure, Sourabh Verma won two Super 100 titles while Sameer Verma and Subhankar Dey picked up one each last year. It is significant that there have been no winners even in Super 100 tournaments this year. As for doubles competition, suffice to say that the story in has been bleaker than in singles.

Pullela Gopichand has been the national coach since 2006.
Pullela Gopichand has been the national coach since 2006.
(Photo: IANS)

In any other sport, the Chief Coach would have been held accountable.  Pullela Gopichand, who took over the reins as National Coach from Vimal Kumar back in 2006 and has ploughed a lonely furrow by and large, has delivered some heartening results in the past. But that should not be a reason for the Badminton Association of India to gloss over recent results.

There is no point lamenting the unexplained departure of Indonesian Mulyo Handoyo in early 2018.  Nor will much be served by pointing fingers at the conspicuous absence of a team of coaches working to ensure that the assembly line would not lose shape and form. It is perhaps more important to see what can be done to remedy the situation.

File picture of Indian singles badminton player Lakshya Sen.
File picture of Indian singles badminton player Lakshya Sen.
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter/@India_AllSports)

The Badminton Association of India’s junior programme has not inspired much confidence that the success of a handful of players at the global level in the past few years can be replicated in the immediate future. A huge part of the reason is the inadequate exposure provided by the national federation to most of the juniors.

Lakshya Sen and Kartikey Gulshan Kumar are ranked in the top five in the men’s section while Jakka Vaishnavi Reddy and Aakarshi Kashyap are in the top 10 in the women’s section, but it would be a good wager that they have paid their own way (or got their own sponsors) for most tournaments.
Malvika Bansod defeated top-seeded Phittayaporn Chaiwan 21-18, 21-19 in the women’s singles  of the Badminton Asia Junior Championships
Malvika Bansod defeated top-seeded Phittayaporn Chaiwan 21-18, 21-19 in the women’s singles of the Badminton Asia Junior Championships
(Photo: Twitter)

Of course, some good news surfaces in a sporadic manner, the most recent being left-handed Malvika Bansod defeating top-seeded Phittayaporn Chaiwan 21-18, 21-19 in the women’s singles second round of the Badminton Asia Junior Championships in Suzhou, China. If the right support is extended to the deserving, some of them may go on to be good flag-bearers for Indian badminton.

Sports secretary Radheysham Julaniya (second from left) has asked Badminton Association of India to come up with a dynamic plan to help the juniors.
Sports secretary Radheysham Julaniya (second from left) has asked Badminton Association of India to come up with a dynamic plan to help the juniors.
(Photo: Twitter/@IndiaSports) 

Word has it that the Sports Secretary Radheysham Julaniya has indicated to the Badminton Association of India to come up with a dynamic plan to help the juniors sharpen their competitive skills. The reported decision to not fund trips to all international events by the senior lot can come as a wake-up call against stagnation.

For a sport that has caught the fancy of youngsters, it would be a pity if badminton were not to capitalise on its popularity. While many a discipline is struggling to create a mass base in the country, this sport has ignored the need to create rungs between the base and the elite level. It is never too late to do some course correction so that the legacy is not lost, even in the short term.

According to data available in the public domain, Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports releases not less than Rs 5 crore each year on account of Badminton Association of India. Besides, BAI itself earned no less than Rs 11.62 crore from broadcast rights and Rs 9.57 crore from sponsorship in 2016-17.

So, it is not as if BAI is a boot-strapping organisation.

The powers that be in BAI must identify a bunch of committed coaches across the country to handle the junior programme, but with a chief coach for juniors who can help them with a roadmap for the transition. It must take the most talented juniors under its wings, providing them with the right environment in training and support to compete so that they can move to the next level.

Resting on their oars has never helped anyone progress. The time for BAI to realise this is fast slipping away. Yes, Indian badminton needs to get off the treadmill that it has found itself on and get going. Sooner than later if it wants to stay relevant on the global stage and not cede its position in the popularity stakes in India to other disciplines of sport.

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