Has Indian badminton found its brahmastra – its ultimate weapon to draw in the crowds?
For as long as one can remember, the biggest gripe among organizers was the inability of the game to draw in the crowds at domestic events. Last Sunday evening, a company called Game Point showed just what was possible. If the crowds wouldn’t come to the game, they’d take the game to the crowds.
That is exactly what happened on the final day of the Tamil Nadu Badminton League, organized by Game Point. The league held its final in the central atrium of Chennai’s biggest mall, Express Avenue. Never have players of this level played before a crowd of thousands. Such was the response that former Indian international Siddharth Jain, a contemporary of Pullela Gopichand, was left searching for words. “It was unbelievable,” Siddharth, who has lent his support to the league, said. “There were so many people that the organizers had to hire bouncers to control the crowd. It was one of the best audiences that I’ve seen, either in India or abroad, and I have played in some of the biggest tournaments.”
Four-time national champion Chetan Anand, now on the comeback trail from injury, endorsed Siddharth’s view. “It was a unique idea,” said Chetan. “The crowd was fantastic. The atmosphere during the final was great. It was packed. There were people throughout the arena, in the walkways, and looking down from the floors above. Normally in a tournament it’s hard to bring in people; only those who know the players will come. People don’t take the initiative to attend a tournament.”
It’s somehow appropriate that the idea to hold an event such as this in a mall should come from Aditya Elango, a former junior India shuttler associated with Game Point. The 23-year-old has already made some unconventional and courageous decisions with his academics. The son of a chemical engineer and a political science professor, Aditya enrolled for an engineering course in electronics and communications, but decided after four years that he wouldn’t pursue a career as engineer. “I never attended college or exams,” said Aditya. “I lost interest in the course after the second year. I was travelling a lot for my badminton too.”
With just a few weeks left to complete his engineering degree, Aditya decided he’d rather do something he was more interested in. “I was going through a phase, and I figured out what I liked,” he said. “Initially, my parents were worried, but now that I’m pursuing my degree in psychology, they don’t have a problem with my decision.”
The attraction of holding an event in a mall – provided, of course, that the lighting and drift conditions are all right – might be irresistible to organizers and sponsors of future events. If that happens, badminton might be able to reach out to a whole new audience.