The dichotomy of Indian badminton: Singles flourishes while doubles ignored?
2017 has undoubtedly been the best year for Indian badminton. The country has soared way above other badminton giants like China, Japan and Chinese Taipei, to register as many as seven Superseries titles in the singles category this year.
The likes of PV Sindhu (2 Superseries titles), Kidambi Srikanth (4 Superseries titles) and B Sai Praneeth (1 Superseries title) have become household names after bringing home multiple laurels for India.
Even the likes of HS Prannoy, India’s second highest ranked men’s singles shuttler, has made headlines with his good performances, registering consecutive wins against Olympic silver medallist Lee Chong Wei and Olympic champion Chen Long at the Indonesia Open. He also went on to win the US Open after defeating compatriot Parupalli Kashyap in the summit clash. These performances have taken him to number 10 in the BWF rankings.
The doubles shuttlers have been far from the limelight, and that has reflected in how much they have been valued in the Premier Badminton League auctions. In fact, only 18 doubles players from India were signed in the doubles auctions for PBL 2018, while the number for foreign doubles shuttlers is 23. Some of these foreign doubles players are even retired shuttlers like Lee Young Dae and Yoo Yeon Seong.
Indian doubles shuttler B Sumeeth Reddy had even lashed out against this apparent apathy towards doubles shuttlers in India, saying that they will only improve once they start playing alongside the foreign stars.
HS Prannoy became the highest paid shuttler in the PBL auctions earlier this year, being snapped up by Ahmedabad Smash Masters for a whopping Rs 62 lakh. The world no 10 men’s singles shuttler, however, feels that the price of a player can often depend on what time during the auctions he or she goes under the hammer.
“Frankly speaking, doubles players should be equally given their importance, although anything can happen in an auction,” he said. “The timing when the player is auctioned could be very crucial. If your name comes at the start, people might not want to pay as much because they might want to save it for those who might come later.
“I think the doubles players came at the start of the auctions. So that may have been a bit of an issue,” Prannoy further said.
More recently, further controversy regarding the disparity in prizes at the junior nationals came to the fore. While there was prize money in store for all categories, the winners of the singles events were awarded an additional car. Badminton Association of India (BAI) officials did confirm to us that the cars were not from the association’s side, but were awarded by separate sponsors.
However, this does bring out the disparity between how singles and doubles badminton players are valued in the country, something that could be a cause for concern, believes national team coach Pullela Gopichand.
“I definitely think that it (disparity in the valuation of singles and doubles players) is a valid point, and I hope that we can improve this situation in the future,” said Gopichand ahead of the PBL.
Star doubles shuttlers like Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa had also taken to Twitter, recently, to voice their concerns about this issue.
Gutta pointed out the lack of unity within the badminton community, as something that may have brought the situation to this point.
Meanwhile, her former women’s doubles partner Ashwini Ponnappa also took to the social media to call out the disparity.
However, HS Prannoy feels that it is the lack of performance on the court that may have affected this situation as well.
“In our country, where singles players are winning superseries, the Olympics, or making it to the top 10 in the rankings, you can’t say that the singles players aren’t doing well,” he said. “Obviously, when they are doing so well, people are willing to go for them more.
“I know its disappointing because sometimes you don’t feel that you are getting what you deserve, but it's only going to change when the doubles players win Superseires consistently,” Prannoy further said. “I just hope that happens soon that they get the equal recognition.”
With the auctions for PBL 2018 already done, it looks unlikely that the situation will change anytime soon. However, good performances by the Indian shuttlers in the tournament is something that could turn things around for them in the next edition. For now, though, the struggle remains a constant for the doubles shuttlers in the country.