Gopichand blasts international scheduling, puts focus on a calendar for athletes

With Tokyo Olympics next year, Pullela Gopichand is on the job with the specific intent of producing an Olympic champion in the Tokyo edition, next year.

Gopichand with India's leading men's singles players Sameer Verma, B. Sai Praneeth and Kidambi Srikanth at Gopi Academy in Hyderabad.

Another year is coming to an end and for chief national badminton coach, Pullela Gopichand, the schedule doesn’t change and there is nothing really like ‘holidaying’ with his family.

With Tokyo Olympics next year, the former All England champion is on the job with the specific intent of producing an Olympic champion (remember P.V. Sindhu won the silver in the 2016 Rio edition).

With unbridled passion, Gopi works hard with the players at his two academies in Hyderabad with a touch of worry about how the players these days play in too many tournaments and hardly giving them time to recover.

Taking time off from his demanding training programme, he shares thoughts on the sport and what lies ahead.

“Well, we cannot blame the players also for the simple reason they (Indians) are fighting among themselves to book a slot for the 2020 Olympics,” points out Gopichand.

But, he is quick to confess that consistency overall has been lacking and it could have been better.

Better Scheduling

However, the former five-times national champion, who set a benchmark in coaching for many others in other disciplines, is optimistic.

“Even if you look at the training schedules of these major players, there were some freak incidents like Prannoy’s related to health. Otherwise, I must say it is poor management of the international schedule,” feels the national coach.

Gopichand goes further to reason out that Indians still don’t follow a system which is clearly demarcated, which he has been talking about in the last couple of years. Moreover, he wants the coaches’ role to be addressed clearly both in terms of training and in deciding the schedule of players taking part in majors.

The national coach, who is now has an overload in taking care of all the top players before the Olympics, insists that training and competing cannot be separated.

"Everything is related including resting or recovery phase as they say. There is an imperative need for a calendar which should monitor the athlete to make him or her perfectly fit for the big events,” he says.

What exactly is Gopichand’s role? “My role is only suggestive. I cannot impose myself in the given structure and format. Nothing has changed, honestly. Sometimes out of respect, some players might listen and again, my advice is not binding,” he says.

Specific programme for coaches

Is there a need to change the coaching style for some of the India’s premier shuttlers, especially in singles? “Definitely, coaching patterns are changing. We need to find our path with lot of clarity, a specific programme,” he feels.

“Frankly, sheer push of energy which has been the case with Indian badminton and quite successfully too is not a sustainable model for sure. Need to have an entire outlook which manages players. This is important. And the players also should keep in mind whether they belong to themselves, the Academy or SAI (Sports Authority of India) or the country,” he explains.

“Yes, definitely, the number of coaches with calibre are definitely few now. Still, it would be fair to say that the Indian system has lot of talent and I continue to believe that it will produce good players and results still,” says the untiring coach who has the distinction of producing Olympic medallists and a world champion too from his academy.

“But, having said that, tell me where are the coaches who can sit behind the court for a world No.1 or 5 and form strategies against big players. Essentially, I believe, we need four streams of players who need dedicated coaches.

“Unless, we are able to address this, I don’t think we will go forward,” he said.

Then, how is the response from the SAI and the Badminton Association of India? “Honestly, they have been very positive to my thoughts. The SAI director general and the secretary of the union sports minister and the BAI chief understand the issue and the research team too got it right,” says Gopichand.

But with Olympics nearing, will there be a solution?

“Well, it is not just about the coming of Olympics. The problem needs to be addressed with a long-term perspective. I would love to have both my hands tied up to produce an Olympic medallist in Tokyo. Will manage for sure. But, you can’t expect it consistently over the years,” he said.

Will there be a point when you might just give up? “No way. For the simple reason, who else will do this. One should understand I am only raising relevant issues and want answers from the top,” Gopichand points out.

“I don’t want a system which is there in China or Indonesia. Not even a Gopi System. But, do define. A bad plan is okay but no plan at all is not welcome. For instance, selections are not just happening as the way they should. I am sorry to say this,” reveals the coach.

“I am very disappointed. Unfortunately, in the given structure, I don’t have a say. I don’t want to go into the depths of the process. I would say definitely far from being the ideal scenario.”

“Yes, I don’t think none of the 2020 Olympic contenders like Saina, Sindhu or Srikanth, or Sikki or Ashwini or doubles players Satwik can say they are deprived of chances. But do spare a thought for those just below this group. It is not just done,” Gopichand said.

When asked about Saina and Sindhu in the lead up to the Olympics, Gopichand said: "I have seen her (Sindhu) go up and down and has the ability to raise the bar to a different level and she did it consistently in Olympics and World championships.

"Yes, she (Saina) is struggling. But, I think if Olympics were two years from now, I would have been more concerned. I still believe it is an issue of fitness and back issues," Gopichand said.