Pullela Gopichand will miss the Tokyo Olympics after deciding not to accompany the Indian contingent. He will be unable to make it four successive Olympics as chief national badminton coach of the Indian team, having attended the Games in 2008, 2012 and 2016.
The 47-year-old took the decision after the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) cleared only a five-member support staff for the Tokyo Olympics. Singles coaches Park Tae-Sang and Santosa, along with doubles coach Mathias Boe and physios Sumansh Sivalanka and Evangline Baddam, will be part of the team in Tokyo.
Speaking to Sportskeeda, Gopichand said:
“I opted out to ensure Agus Dwi Santosa could be accommodated in the squad. Sai (Praneeth) has been training with Agus for quite a while now. Since Agus is coaching one-on-one with Sai, he should accompany Sai to Tokyo. It would have been unfair to Agus if I had traveled with the contingent instead of him. Agus deserves to go."
According to the new norms, the number of officials traveling to the Olympics cannot be more than one-third of the athletes. However, the sports ministry can allow additional officials at no cost to the government.
According to Gopichand:
“We have just four players who have qualified this time compared to Rio where we had seven. If you follow the new rules of one-third of the athletes then only two officials can go. We already have five, including the two physios which are twenty per cent more than the athletes. If I had gone then there would have been six officials and just four athletes. Actually we should thank the Indian Olympic Association for allowing officials more than the athletes, which is not the case with the other sports."
The 2001 All England winner has taken the developments in his stride but pointed out that a last-minute decision could have been avoided.
“There should be proper advanced planning about who is going with the contingent and who is not. It should have been decided at least a month in advance. We have just two weeks before the start of the Olympics and we are naming the officials at the last moment. I feel it could have been avoided.”
Last month, the Badminton Association of India (BAI) wrote to the IOA, proposing a seven-member support staff for the Games. But because of COVID-19 protocols, the BAI had to whittle the number down to five. Even during matches in Tokyo, only one coach will be permitted to accompany players. Earlier, two coaches were allowed to sit for matches.
Gopichand to miss just his 2nd Games since 2000
With the exception of the 2004 Summer Games, Gopichand has been part of every Olympics since 2000.
“I was a player in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. I was supposed to go to the 2004 Athens Olympics but due to some urgent family emergencies I could not go. The day prior to my departure for Athens, my son Sai Vishnu was born and there was nobody to look after my wife PVV Lakshmi. Another serious issue was my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer during that period. It all happened just a day prior to my flight to Athens. I am glad that it happened before my departure and I could take care of them.”
Gopichand was instrumental in India winning two medals in successive Olympics. While Saina Nehwal won the bronze medal at the London Olympics, PV Sindhu claimed silver four years later in Rio.
The Indian team will be looking to complete a hat-trick of medals in Tokyo, but Gopichand will not be courtside this time around to guide the shuttlers.
Sindhu, who has been training under Korean coach Park since February, was groomed by Gopichand from the age of 14. Sai Praneeth has been training under Gopichand since 2007.
BAI general secretary Ajay Singhania said in a statement:
“With just one quota available, Gopichand decided to opt out to ensure Agus Dwi Santosa could be accommodated. Santosa has been training with Sai Praneeth since the pandemic. It is obvious that players would prefer to have their respective coaches."
Considering the COVID-19 protocols put in place by Games organizers, only 33 percent of any nation’s contingent can be support staff.