BAI chief: Our goal is to create a pool of champion players

BAI interim President Himanta Biswa Sarma looks to bolster Indian badminton and is confident of producing multiple champions at the upcoming Commonwealth and Asian Games.

P. V. Sindhu clinched the silver after narrowly going down to Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara 21-19, 20-22, 22-20 in a gruelling final on Sunday, while Saina settled for bronze after losing to Okuhara 21-17, 12-21, 10-21 in the semifinal.

Elated at the medal-winning feats of India’s poster girls –– P. V. Sindhu and Saina Nehwal –– at the 2017 World Badminton Championships, BAI interim President Himanta Biswa Sarma said his goal is to create a pool of champion players who will finish at the podium in the 2018 Asian Games and Commonwealth Games.

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“We have a great team of able coaches, physios and mental trainers who are constantly working and we are working to create a blueprint for junior and upcoming players,” said Sarma, a Cabinet Minister in the Assam government.

“I’m pretty sure that before the CWG and Asian Games 2018, you will see more and more players finishing at the podium. Our goal is to create a pool of champion players for the next few years and we are working hard to make it possible,” he added.

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Sindhu clinched the silver after narrowly going down to Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara 21-19, 20-22, 22-20 in a gruelling final on Sunday. While Saina had earlier settled for bronze after losing to Okuhara 21-17, 12-21, 10-21 in the women’s singles semifinal clash at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow.

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“I’m glad that this the first time India had a record breaking participation at the World Championships and getting two medals from a single world championship is unprecedented but our players have made it possible. I want to congratulate both Saina and Sindhu on their medal winning performances and the Coaching staff for their efforts,” the Badminton Association of India (BAI) chief said.

“The performance of Indian players at the World Championships also says a lot about Indian badminton and our prowess in international platform. I am confident, you will see even more consistent performances at such big stage in the coming times.”

Immediately after Sindhu’s silver medal feat, Sarma had announced cash awards of ₹10 lakh for the Rio Olympics silver medallist, and ₹5 lakh for Saina.

Sarma went on to say that it isn’t only about the female shuttlers anymore, as the male singles shuttlers –– Kidambi Srikanth, Parupalli Kashyap, H.S. Prannoy and Sai Praneeth –– have come out of the shadows of Saina and Sindhu and made their mark in various international tournaments.

Srikanth went on to reach the quarterfinals of the Worlds before losing out to top seed Son Wan Ho of South Korea 14-21, 18-21. Kashyap, Prannoy and Praneeth also have been consistently winning the various Superseries.

“All our players have been performing and winning at the highest level. The growth of our players have been phenomenal and I believe you will see more names and performances at the junior level as well,” Sarma said.

While the focus has been on the performances of singles players, Sarma appeared positive despite the repeated failures of the country’s doubles players. For years now, doubles badminton in India has been facing a lack of depth and consistency which proved to be the country’s distress at the world stage.

It was in the 2010 CWG when the women’s duo of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa clinched the gold medal before staging a phenomenal fightback to reach the semifinal and clinch a podium finish with a bronze at the World Badminton Championships, in the following year. A string of good results saw Gutta and Ponnappa make the 2012 Olympics only to miss out on a quarterfinal berth by just one point.

Regardless of the result in London, the duo went on to bag several women’s doubles titles for India including a silver at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow before parting ways.

“After Jwala (Gutta) and Ashwini (Ponappa), we haven’t had an established set of pairs but in the last few months we have seen great spark among the current set of our doubles and mixed doubles players,” Sarma said.

A lot has changed since then in Indian badminton, but even now, there is hardly any excitement about the doubles department. A host of shuttlers like Sikki Reddy, Manu Attri, Sumeeth Reddy and Pranaav Jerry Chopra have shown great promise, while new-comers like Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, Chirag Shetty and Shlok Ramachandran have impressed on the junior circuit.

“Our doubles coaches have been closely working with the players and we have seen performances as well as approach to game getting better for each of the players,” Sarma said.

“It is a matter of time when they too will start winning, but till that time you will have to give them time. We are very confident that in the new future you will see medals coming even from our doubles players,” he added.

He also brushed aside the controversies surrounding national coach Pullela Gopichand, who has been facing the ire of many doubles players for the step-motherly treatment meted out to them.

“I think it’s a historic day for Indian badminton and let’s not get into controversy and spoil the celebratory mood,” he concluded.

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