National champion Aparna Balan fights for her due

Kerala’s Aparna Balan is one such case. A nine-time national doubles champion, six of them in mixed doubles with Arun Vishnu, Aparna is the current national women’s doubles champion with Maharashtra’s Prajakta Sawant.

Kerala's Aparna Balan (right) and Maharashtra's Prajakta Sawant after winning the women's doubles titles in the National championship earlier this year.   -  Special Arrangement

Despite being a sport that brought precious medals for the country in the last two Olympics, through Saina Nehwal and P.V. Sindhu, badminton faces a strange problem.

The sport wants its stars to play the National championship, to add value to it, but surprisingly, it frequently sidelines the National champions.

Kerala’s Aparna Balan is one such case. A nine-time national doubles champion, six of them in mixed doubles with Arun Vishnu, Aparna is the current national women’s doubles champion with Maharashtra’s Prajakta Sawant.

But strangely, Aparna has to pay from her own pocket to play international tournaments. She had been taking things in her stride and played more than 15 tournaments on her own the last few years but now, with funds running low, a lot of pent-up feelings have come to the fore.

“What is the use of winning the nationals when they can’t offer you a place in the national team? Isn’t there any value for the national titles? They why do they conduct the nationals in the first place,” asked Aparna Balan during a chat with Sportstar at the Rajiv Gandhi indoor stadium here on Wednesday evening.

Aparna also put out a series of tweets to that effect in the last couple of days.

Three years ago Aparna, then the National mixed doubles champion with Arun Vishnu, was ignored for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. When she asked about it, badminton officials pacified her saying that she would be playing in the Incheon Asian Games that same year.

“But we were ignored for the Asian Games too. After that, I had to leave the national camp in Hyderabad as my dad was unwell. After the new national doubles coach, Malaysian Kim Tan came in, we were called for the national camp early last year,” said Aparna.

“We were thrilled, we thought we now have a specialist doubles coach, that it would do us a world of good. But after just about a month at the camp, they were sending an Indian team for a Bahrain tournament. But they did not send us, they explained that they wanted to send younger players, under-21 players.”

Upset and very annoyed, Aparna left the national camp and came back home to Kerala and has been training under former doubles internationals Sanave Thomas and Rupesh Kumar - who reached great heights and played many World Championships and Thomas Cups - in Kochi for almost a year.

“If they want to take younger players, why should they call us for the national camp? And shouldn’t these youngsters prove themselves by beating us at the National championships,” asked the 30-year-old who is employed with the Indian Oil Corporation. “Only if we play international events will our rankings go up.”

Aparna has found support in Jwala Gutta, the country’s finest women’s doubles player who made history when she won the 2011 World championship bronze with Ashwini Ponnappa, who also felt that doubles players were frequently not given their due.

“Well, I have been talking about it...now Aparna also…many others are also suffering but won’t voice out!,” tweeted Jwala.

“Jwala is now a governing body member in the Sports Authority of India, she can surely help us. She will understand our problem,” said Aparna.

After next week’s India Open Super Series in New Delhi, Aparna plans to go for the Malaysia Open Super Series Premier early next month.

“We have the Sudirman Cup coming up in a few months…now we would like to know how they are going to select the players. We need clarity on this,” said Aparna.

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