Coaching setbacks and allegations of neglect hit Indian badminton in Olympic year
A World Championships Gold medal, a men's doubles podium finish at a BWF Super 500 event, new foreign specialised coaches and a new premier academy from the country's top doubles player should have all spelled good news for Indian badminton, but that has sadly not been the case.
As we head into 2020, the Olympic qualification year, a slew of coaching debacles, bad press, and a five-month period of sub-par performances from the Indian contingent have overshadowed most positives for Indian badminton.
Ace doubles star Jwala Gutta is the latest to join the bandwagon of former players and coaches spelling out their reservations for the way that things are being run in Indian badminton currently.
The former World Championships medalist might have moved on to newer things with her latest venture with a premier sports coaching academy, but she has not given up her firm stand against the badminton administration.
Gutta has expressed concerns over the Indian team's chances at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics over the last few weeks on the sidelines of her academy's launch.
Renewing her age-old feud with Chief National Coach Pullela Gopichand, she has lambasted him for his allegiance to singles players and continued aloofness to the doubles teams.
Gutta very recently even questioned his contributions in the rise of ace singles stars Saina Nehwal and P.V. Sindhu saying that the work of other coaches is often ignored in favour of Gopichand.
And the latest coaching debacles that have hit Indian badminton definitely warrant attention as they only act as vindication of Gutta's repeated argument.
Coaches bid goodbye
The exits of high-profile coaches including Korea's Kim Ji Hyun and Malaysia's Kim Tan Her for vaguely-specified "personal reasons" had raised alarm bells in the second half of 2019.
The timings of these exits were concerning as, first, Hyun had just helped Sindhu to the World Championships Gold and second, results in doubles had begun improving significantly under Tan Her.
Things took a turn for the worse with bad press in the subsequent weeks. Soon after her exit, Hyun alleged a "heartless" Sindhu for being indifferent towards her physical suffering during an illness, and while Sindhu's father and supporters rushed to her defence, the damage had already been done.
And if that wasn't enough, Tan Her's replacement as doubles coach for Team India, Indonesia's Flandy Limpele, blasted Indian players for being uncooperative.
Within his first month of joining, Limpele alleged that the "bad attitude of some Indian players" was one of the reasons for the spate of exits of the high-profile coaches.
He even went on to add that if things don't change for the better, no foreign coach would want to be associated with the Indian side.
During the same time, dissent begun to grown from within as well. Gutta's former partner has and top doubles athlete Ashwini Ponnappa recently echoed her concerns as well.
Ponnappa, during a recent event, blamed the complete lack of respect for doubles players in India for the poor state of discipline today.
The Bengaluru-based athlete lamented the absence of women's doubles from the Premier Badminton League extravaganza, asking how can the administration expect to churn out top doubles pairs at the international level when they do not, at the very least, encourage young girls to pick up the discipline.
Gutta and Ponnappa's concerns are not unfounded. A cursory look at the notional rankings for Olympics Qualification would reveal that if the quotas spaces were to be allotted today, Indian would secure only four spots (three singles and one doubles team).
With just four months left for the qualification period to end, the fate of top athletes hangs in the balance. At a time when they should be upping the ante for medal preparations, most of them are struggling to get qualification spots.
In such a scenario, celebrating the emphatic rise of Indian badminton might feel a little premature. The Indian contingent has given us enough reasons to celebrate over the past decades, which has been accentuated by some exceptional highs, but the graph has stalled a little.
And while that doesn't point to a dearth of talent in the contingent, it does provide deeper insight into a rotten system that has begun to impose itself as a big hurdle for further success.
With the 2020 season already underway in Malaysia, one can only expect for these administrative and performance issues to be resoIved at the earliest so that results start flowing again.
And as fans, we too can pin our hopes on these issues subsiding in favour of saving the interests of not only the players involved, but the sport in India at large.Modified 08 Jan 2020, 17:27 IST