The regression of Indian badminton

India Forward is an open page in GUTS that provides a space for discussion on issues surrounding badminton. GUTS aims to provide an opportunity for those who want to express their opinions on the game. We begin by raising an issue that is of critical importance to Indian badminton – the domestic circuit. Readers are welcome to add their observations by clicking on the ‘comment’ option below.

WITH promising performances by our international shuttlers – Saina Nehwal, Chetan Anand, Aditi Mutatkar, Anand Pawar, and the doubles teams, among others – one would have expected happy tidings for Indian badminton. But developments over the last few months have shown that the system that should fuel the engine has turned into an abject failure. The Badminton Association of India’s national circuit has turned into a farce, with only one senior tournament (the Tata Open in Mumbai) being held this calendar year (ie, since April), and the scheduling of only one more. Without the presence of a vibrant domestic circuit, how on earth is a healthy crop of young players going to emerge? More importantly, if the BAI is not conducting tournaments, what is it doing?

Only one more tournament – the Syed Modi International – is slotted for the rest of this year. Four tournaments have been dropped. No excuse can justify this. While two senior ranking tournaments in Mumbai and Delhi in January next year were apparently cancelled because organizers could not get sponsors due to the economic downturn, what can explain the lack of tournaments throughout 2008?
In a circuit starved of domestic competition, what are the second-rung and promising players supposed to do? How are players ranked 10 and below going to push for their places in the national team? How are junior players expected to gauge themselves against the seniors?

Talking of which, we come to the All India Junior Ranking tournament in Chandigarh. Reports from parents, coaches and players suggest this was the worst conducted tournament in recent times. The main draw was supposed to be released on the evening of the 20th, but it wasn’t ready even by the morning of the 21st. The draw for the doubles was ready only on the evening of the 22nd, which meant players were made to compete late night and early morning, when temperatures were near freezing. Doubles players had their first round at 8pm, second round at midnight, and quarterfinals at 2 in the morning. Having finished their matches around 3, they had to wake up in time for a 9.30am start the next day. It was worse for those who had entered multiple events. “The organizers hadn’t allotted proper umpires or line judges for most of the matches,” said one irate parent. “Courts were not given for practise in the mornings and players and parents were waiting outside from 6 in the morning in the freezing cold. The qualifying draw had three times as many players as the main draw, so why didn’t the organizers increase the number of days for qualifying? After this experience, many promising players may disappear.”

This, for a tournament that was supposed to be a selection event for the Dutch and German junior Opens! And why were the three junior tournaments – Patna, Chandigarh and Hyderabad – scheduled with just a day’s gap in between? Surely the BAI didn’t expect all the players and parents to fly from Patna to Chandigarh and then to Hyderabad?

Indian badminton, even in the 1930s, always had a vibrant domestic circuit. Although international assignments were few, several tournaments, especially in Bombay, Lahore and Calcutta, helped the game grow, and attracted a mass following. All the top internationals of each era, including Finn Kobbero, Erland Kops, Wong Peng Soon and others, have participated in Invitation tournaments in India. Such tournaments create a buzz around the game, and stimulate media coverage.
The lack of domestic competition in 2008 means that we have regressed, and gone backwards in time. If the national body is incompetent to even stage domestic tournaments, it fails to justify its existence.


About badmintonmania

Sometimes I wonder if I'm the Indian in Thoreau's Walden who makes cane baskets and is surprised nobody wants them. A. was talking about discipline when she said: "But Dev, if you want to move ahead in life, you'll have to be like that," and she may as well have defined everything else for me. I've played the low percentage game for too long to believe there's anything in it but the romance; the odds keep getting jacked up higher and higher; and you may be a good Idealist but a worse Fool.
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