Among the few Bangaloreans who will be headed to the London Olympics is Ashwini Ponnappa. Kodagu is renowned for being a nursery of hockey talent, but in Ashwini they have produced a gem of a badminton player. Ashwini has partnered the Hyderabadi shuttler Jwala Gutta over the last three years with remarkable success, and the two are seen as a dangerous pair the world over. Ashwini’s story is a pointer to the importance one should give to simple sporting infrastructure.
Ashwini started playing badminton at the DYSS (State Youth Centre) on Nrupathunga Road. Spotted early on by the Prakash Padukone Academy, she was seen as a prospective singles player, but she had a promising partnership with another Academy trainee, Nitya Sosale, and the two became national junior champions. Ashwini was a natural athlete and she had so impressed VR Beedu, the wise athletics coach who was associated with the Padukone Academy, that he declared he would make her a national-level athlete if she wasn’t interested in badminton.
The women’s doubles at the senior level was dominated by Jwala Gutta and fellow-Hyderabadi Shruti Kurien, but the pair had limited success at the international level. The Jwala-Shruti and Ashwini-Nitya pairs would’ve both faded into oblivion had not Jwala and Shruti quarreled; Jwala started to look for a new partner, and Ashwini was the one that seemed to fit the bill. It was a fortuitous moment for Indian badminton. Doubles partnerships are like locks and keys. While Jwala is a brilliant forecourt player – meaning she patrols the net effectively – Ashwini complements her from the back.
The Kodava girl is a superb athlete and one of the hardest hitters in the international circuit. How such a petite girl can hit the shuttle so hard is a matter of mystery, but Ashwini is generally regarded to have benefitted from the sporting genes of her family. Her father – in the tradition of the Kodavas — was a good hockey player, and Ashwini has inherited athleticism and strength from her martial forefathers.
The Jwala-Ashwini combine shot to national fame when they won the Commonwealth Games gold medal in front of a rapturous crowd at Siri Fort Stadium in Delhi. That was the event when she first shot to fame nationally, and she would begin to grace the front pages of magazines. The two went on to win a bronze at the World Championships in 2011. Today, to think of an Indian badminton team without Ashwini Ponnappa is inconceivable; she is with Jwala one of the country’s top sportswomen.
How would it be had DYSS on Nrupathunga Road not had badminton courts? Would Ashwini have taken to the game and done such remarkable service for the country? Are we then sure that there are no more Ashwinis in the cities and the countryside waiting to be discovered? Why must we leave it all to chance?
Bangalore as a sporting centre has diminished in recent years, thanks to the indifference of city planners to sporting infrastructure. There were times when Olympic-bound teams would camp at the Sports Authority of India’s Southern Centre, located beside Bangalore University. But today, as more cities around the country develop infrastructure, Bangalore appears almost a backward city. It has been long since an event of international importance was hosted in Karnataka’s capital, and that should be a matter of concern to all citizens, for it indicates that the enterprise and free spirit and demonstration of human excellence in international sport is denied to its citizens.
The hallmark of a great city is not in the height of its buildings or its expansive parks. A city must breed great intellectuals, theatrepeople, poets, musicians, scientists, sportsmen. And sportsmen don’t come out of the woodwork, for their work is not contemplation in the seclusion of a room. Sportsmen come from a system; and infrastructure is an inherent part of that system. One does not need to build a stadium worth a million dollars – it will only become an expensive showpiece which will bleed money. Infrastructure would rather mean grounds all around the city, each with a running track, changing rooms and good toilets. Without functional toilets, how would a girl be encouraged to take up sport?