The stench of missed opportunities

LC Gupta, long-time Secretary of the badminton association, died on Friday, Oct 9. He’s unlikely to be missed

Dev S Sukumar. Bangalore

Do not be fooled by the condolences coming in for LC Gupta, long-time Secretary of the Badminton Association of India (BAI), who passed away on Friday morning (Oct 9, 2009) aged 79. It’s considered insensitive to denigrate the dead, and most in the badminton community are likely to remain diplomatic. The truth, however, is that a chapter has closed on one of the most inefficient administrators Indian sport has seen. Indian badminton will not be hurt by his absence.

Not that Indian badminton, like the rest of Indian sport, had many great administrators to boast about in the first place. But with LC Gupta, one got to see a classic Indian administrator at work. Organisers of domestic tournaments would tear their hair in frustration as letter after letter addressed to him went unanswered. Critical correspondence and administrative decisions were delayed endlessly, and players were often on edge, wondering whether their entries had been sent in time for international tournaments.

Gupta was a former Rajasthan player who wormed into the BAI by being in the good books of Fazil Ahmed, a record setting administrator with the BAI. Fazil served as Vice-President/ President for no less than 30 years, becoming one of the early autocrats in Indian sport. Gupta became part of Fazil’s clique, subordinating himself to his master’s wishes. Gupta’s secret desire was to go on a foreign trip, and he even consulted an astrologer in 1970. Told that he would eventually see a foreign land, Gupta feigned surprise. “How can I go?” he asked the astrologer. “I’m nobody in BAI.”

But the astrologer turned out to be right, for Gupta was finally rewarded with what he had long hoped for. He was to accompany Prakash Padukone as his manager during the Evening of Champions event at London, 1979.
Since then, Gupta gradually became powerful. He became Secretary in 1994 and was a spectator to India’s precipitous decline in the sport. The early and mid-Nineties were probably the worst phase in Indian badminton, and the BAI had much to do with that.

Things began to change after the establishment of the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy in October 1994. The early success of the academy caused heartburn among BAI officials, leading to a short-lived split in the national association. The Indian Badminton Confederation (IBC), led by Padukone, was eventually forced to a reconciliation with BAI, on the condition that the old BAI guard would vacate their positions. Gupta, nevertheless, managed to remain in the new set-up by the simple means of emotional blackmail. “He started crying loudly and embarrassed all of us,” said SS Mani, who was with the IBC. “We didn’t want to hurt the old man, so we offered him the post of Joint Secretary.”

That was a blunder, for Gupta cared little for Indian badminton. His chief motive was to attend tours and functions at organisers’ expense. Players have often complained about having their TA/DA for foreign tours withheld. Nobody would confront him, however, because he was powerful. But things spilled over at an international Satellite event in Mumbai, November 2006, when an enraged Sanave Thomas lashed out at Gupta in front of everybody. “We took this for too long,” Sanave said later. “We’ve been spending our own money to travel to international tournaments, and we don’t even get the money we are owed.”
There will now be several contenders for Gupta’s post. The future of Indian badminton hinges on who is chosen for this critical seat. Given BAI’s track record, there isn’t any room for optimism. The only solace is that whoever is chosen can’t do worse than Gupta.


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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