I was not much aware of how the game is changing in recent times as I had retired from competitive badminton in 1992. Of late I had seen prize money increasing in the domestic circuit and even sub-juniors getting good sponsorship as far as badminton equipment is concerned. I am indeed happy for the younger lot coming up and getting as much help as they could.
But to what dramatic level the game was changing I had no idea.
My eyes popped out as I stared at the BAI (Badminton Association of India)selected team for the Sudirman cup and Thomas/Uber 2020, postponed Due to Covid and held in 2021 September/October. The Sudirman cup had team of 6 men and 6 women and accompanying them will be 3 coaches, 2 physios, 1 masseur, 1 trainer and 1 sparring partner. The Thomas and Uber cup squad had 10 shuttlers in each. Accompanying them – 5 coaches, 2 physios, 1 trainer,1 masseur and 2 sparring partners. Wow. My head spinned as I digested the news.
Former international player Vikram Singh Bisht who played in my era is also stunned at the changes that have taken place. “Surely it is for the good. Indian badminton is going places. We have had such good results in past few years that all this is justified. And we must consider that players today are living out of suitcases rushing from one tournament to the other. While we had maybe 6-7 international events if we were lucky. Today the players are playing 15/16 events annually, sometimes even more. They require support all the time.”
Vikram feels that with lots of money now in domestic tournaments and equipment sponsorship available so easily is helping the game. But he added, “It is a huge change from our time. We had no support staff at all and only one coach. Hardly any facilities and hardly any money in the circuit. Juniors get lots of exposure abroad. The foreign coaches are there for all. In fact now days players like Sindhu and Saina have their own personal coaches and with entities like OGQ, Go Sports, SAI and others pumping in good amount of cash, these top players can even take parents with them. We had to run around to send our entries for tournament abroad, get the meagre foreign exchange allowed, sometimes book our own flights, etc. Today BAI takes care of all that.”
Vikram also says that sparring partners are needed.” After all, how many players can one single coach spar with? So this is a good addition. So the trainer, physios, masseur are very much needed and so are specialized coaches. Of course we did not have any.” With round the year training camps in different SAI recognised academies also means that the players get top class training for free, as many top class shuttles as required. The sports ministry helps to such an extent that when Sindu wanted to train alone in a stadium that was as big as the one used in Tokyo Olympics, the govt owned Gutchibowli stadium in Hyderabad was opened just for her training, the costs be damned.
And today the Indian teams reach the venue much in advance so as to acclimatize and fight off the jet lag and be fresh and fit for the tournament. Says former National champion, and winner of the first Asian championship way back in 1965 Dinesh Khanna, who was a huge name internationally and was a top ten world ranked shuttler.”You know many times we reached the venue in the morning of the match as hotel was not booked a day in advance as we did not have the money. We had no coach with the team and the manager who was a senior BAI official doubled as a coach with no idea of the sport as he had never played. So we did not have warm-up time as we were thrust immediately to play the match. We had no training camps as we gathered just 3/4 days before departure and tried to have some practice together. Today’s players cannot comprehend what my generation went through.”
There was no physical training, hardly any foreign exchange given to players, and there was last moment clearance from govt before the players could board the flight. Today players take everything for granted but Dinesh and the team did not get free shuttles for practice also. “We had to buy our own shuttles and at times our own airfare. Moreover, the sports ministry officials without any knowledge of what it takes to give good performance never understood why specialisation of players was required. They would cut down team of six to four as they felt singles players could double up for the doubles matches. So a team of four players in Thomas cup could statistically play three singles and two doubles.
“I am indeed very happy to see the facilities enjoyed by players today. They get jobs also very fast in PSU’s and can make badminton a career,” concluded Dinesh.
With BWF circuit prize money running into millions of dollars, companies chasing players for endorsements, it is no wonder that top Indian players zip around in BMW and Audi and top-class SUV’s, travel in club class flights. Badminton never had it so good and players are reveling in its prosperity. Indeed these are terrific times for players of all age groups. The future of the game in India is indeed heartening.