Wednesday morning passed in frenzy for Indian sports journalists. While it was Neeraj Chopra’s feat of qualifying for Tokyo Olympics made the headlines. The blitzkrieg of breaking news continued with another big moment. India’s badminton star Saina Nehwal joined the ruling BJP today and is likely to campaign for the party ahead of the February 8 Delhi election. Saina’s elder sister Abu Chandranshu Nehwal also joined BJP today.
“Today, I joined a party that does so much for the country. I am a very hardworking person and I can see Narendra Modi Sir working hard day in and day out. It will be an honour for me to contribute towards the nation along with him,” she said after joining the party.
The 29-year-old is a can give the party a major mileage in the middle of the Delhi poll campaign. Undoubtedly, she is one of the most popular sporting faces in the country. A former world number 1, she has been honoured with the country’s top sporting awards like the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna and Arjuna Award. The badminton player has won over 24 international titles. In the London Olympics 2012, she won a bronze. She was world number two in 2009 and number one in 2015.
The decision, however, was not a surprise for those who have been following the shuttler on Twitter for a long time. The barrage of tweets, along with copying and posting messages praising Prime Minister Narendra Modi has widely been seen to lean towards the BJP. Saina Nehwal has time and again voiced her support in favour of the ruling party. However, Saina has remained silent along with most other athletes when the country is divided over the enraging debate of the Citizenship Amendment Act.
A tweet by Saina in October last year had sparked controversy after it was found to be identical to several other tweets in favour of a government programme. Not only Saina, but many of the athletes who have past their prime like Yogeshwar Dutta, Gautam Gambhir, Babita Phogat joined the BJP on the verge of their swansongs. However, it is important to assess whether it was right for Saina to take such a call six months ahead of the Olympics?
Saina shot herself into the Indian sporting parlance earning India its third medal at the 2012 London Olympics. Since her historic feat, her career has seen a steady decline. Gone are the days when Saina’s lone aggression and intensity alone wilted her opponents on the court. Has Saina already given up on her hopes to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics now?
A month into the new year, the picture looks pretty unconvincing for Saina, not too long ago who was touted as medal prospects for India at Tokyo 2020. For an individual to qualify for the Olympic, he/she has to keep rankings within the top 16 of the world rankings list which is compiled on the basis of results from April 29, 2019 and April 26, 2020.
Having won only the Indonesia Masters tournament in 2019, a troubling concoction of first-round exits and critical injuries have been grappling her career recently. Saina will need to be within the top 16 to be assured of a place in the Indian contingent that goes to Tokyo. But she has played three tournaments thus far in 2020 and has gone past the first round only once — Saina suffered a quarter-final defeat at the hands of Olympic Champion Carolina Marin at Malaysia Masters.
Since January 2019, in the 14 tournaments, she has played since Saina has managed to go past the first round only on six occasions. This has resulted in her ranking slipping to 18th which is the first time in 10 years that she has slipped out of the top 16. More importantly, she is placed a now on a lowly 22nd in the Olympic qualification rankings.
As things stand now, Saina has to play as many tournaments as possible in the run-up to the Olympics, but joining the party officially today can come as a statement that she has given up on her Olympics hope and now to focus more on to build her political career.
The view is of the author and not that of the organisation.