I think I speak for everybody in the competitive circuit when I say that, as players, we care a lot more about medals and India doing well in major international competitions. As people who are an active part of the playing circuit, we even understand the daily issues that we go through when we participate in tournaments like this.
We spend all our time in practice, we put in all our effort into our game. At the end of it all, if you’re told that nothing you do is going to be enough, it’s quite disheartening. More than that it’s demoralising.
As an athlete playing in a country like India, the challenges we face tend to be many in number. Sports not being considered a serious career choice by a vast majority of the populace is one of them. You need to be able to constantly prove yourself worthy. You need to push your limits; fight yourselves to get better, find mindsets to silence them. The enemies are vast.
But what you least expect is to fight your own Federation. A body which, by definition exists to oversee the proper administrative working and betterment of a particular sport in the country.
In this situation, when the entity that you have to fight the most against is your federation itself, it’s perhaps the biggest tragedy of them all for an athlete. The organisation which is supposed to give a fair chance to those who deserve it, whose main job must be to work without bias, without nepotism; then becomes the greatest foe. Sadly, this is the general trend in badminton for the past few years.
What makes this situation unique is that ever since the emergence of serious contenders in the sport in India, badminton has long been considered a rising discipline. Bursting into the forefront to stand tall among the greatest in the world is certainly a praiseworthy achievement. While the conquests of a few have inspired several youngsters to take up the sport, this facade of success often ends up hiding blatantly unfair issues within the system itself. Consequently, to make ourselves heard, we must always scream a little louder than the rest.
That singles and doubles are not on an equal footing when it comes to badminton in India is no secret. Many before me have had the courage to speak up. I’m sure the generation which succeeds me shall also be vocal against this kind of disregard should they be unfortunate enough to be subject to it.
But why should we have to fight, is the question.
For my part I am no stranger to this kind of biased treatment. From 2012 to 2015, my partner Arun Vishnu and I were the undisputed National Champions when it came to Mixed Doubles.
Before that, 2010 was one year that went by without a hitch. I represented India in both the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. Both Arun and I expected some similar opportunities for the same tournaments in 2014. We obviously had to be in the team since we were National Champions. Our visa applications for the Commonwealth Games got approved and everything seemed to be on track.
Out of the blue, however, two days before the team was all set to leave, we were told that we were not a part of it. That’s all. No explanations which weren’t cliched, no extended communications or justifications. Predictably, the snub made us absolutely livid. But back then, they pacified us by saying that we would be a part of the Incheon Asian Games instead.
In the Commonwealth Games that year, the team went without a specialist mixed doubles team. The likes of Srikanth Kidambi, PC Thulasi and PV Sindhu ended up playing in the Mixed Doubles ties in varied, makeshift combinations.
When it came right down to the wire, the Semi Finals of the Mixed Team Event saw Guru Sai Dutt pair up with Ashwini Ponnappa for the Mixed Doubles fixture in an important clash. Do you see the trend here? Players who were prominently entered as Singles players prior to the competition were now being made to multi task their way through the tournament. Why must this be the case? Are we really such major liabilities that a shot at a medal could be risked even if it meant sending an incomplete team?
Coming to the 2014 Asian Games…
One week before the 2014 Asiads began, we got a notification saying that there was a case of excess in the Indian contingent and players needed to be cut down. Unluckily, I was found to be the least important in the team. But the charade does not end there. Retrospectively, it’s quite amusing if one remembers that that year, Jwala Gutta was injured and did not participate.
Each country has the provision to send 10 Women and 10 Men in their respective Badminton squads. That year, India sent 8 men and just 7 women. I could have gone in Jwala’s stead but, clearly, it was not meant to be.
Frustration. That’s the only word that I can think of at the moment to describe the way things are being run when it comes to doubles players.
First of all, never were there such trials conducted for these major tournaments. For the first time, probably to ensure some semblance of transparency, the BAI conducted trials for the Asian Games. My partner, Shruti KP, and I reached the semi-finals in one of the tournaments and clinched the title in the other. We are on an equal footing with the second doubles pair that was selected in addition to Ashwini Ponnappa and Sikki Reddy. But now, a Head to Head is being cited as the reason for our exclusion.
In the trials held in Bangalore, Shruti and I lost out to Rutaparna and Arathi. That is the only thing that has given them an advantage over us despite picking up the same points across the two trials.
Coming back to my point of singles getting more preference over doubles, I am still not able to wrap my head around the fact that there are 6 singles players in the Asian Games team. Out of them, two are junior circuit players and one out of the two is the daughter of Pullela Gopichand. BAI must know that it is very possible that all 6 of them may not even get a chance to play in the team events.
Only 3 singles players can play in the Team Events and this current squad has 3 back up singles players. What is the logic behind sending only two women’s doubles teams without even considering a back up?
Is this systematic favoritism? It’s quite possible that it is.
I remember in 2014 when the fiasco happened in the days leading up to the Commonwealth Games, the cursory reason Arun Vishnu and I were given is that the Government wants medals.
If you do not let your National Champions get the required exposure, how can you be so quick to judge us on whether or not we are worthy of bringing a medal? At least give us a chance. If we disappoint you after that, take all the ruthless decisions you want.
It’s very sad that my partner and I literally need to beg the Federation to fight for what is rightfully ours. So far, we have sent a letter to the BAI President after the squad was announced.
Predictably, we have not heard back from them. Even after the squad was announced, no one..not one official called us to explain why we missed out on an Asian Games spot despite having the same points as Rutaparna and Arathi who have been selected. I got to know the Head to Head explanation from a well wisher.
Is this how National Champions deserve to be treated?
At their expense, how justified is this current narrative that young players need more exposure?
How can you even think of advancing the career of one player when others who are also deserving have not been paid their dues for a long, long time now?
The road is long and hard. This is just the latest in a long list of battles I have had to fight in my career so far.
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— The Bridge (@TheBridge_IN) July 3, 2018