"I promise only what I can deliver"

"NOW, NOBODY KNOWS WHETHER ONE HAS TO APPLY, or whether one should be recommended to win the Arjuna Award. Even sportspeople and associations are not aware," says Padukone.-Pics. R. RAGU

Prakash Padukone stresses on the need to have clear guidelines for the announcement of the Arjuna Awards. "Everybody should know who is eligible and who is not," he says in a chat with K. Keerthivasan.

Clad in a black shirt and brown trousers, Prakash Padukone walked into the Nehru Indoor Stadium in Chennai to a thunderous applause. Padukone, the guest of honour at the inauguration of the Krishna Khaitan Memorial All-India Junior Ranking Badminton tournament, delivered a short, crisp speech, exhorting the players to concentrate and work hard. In his chat with Sportstar, Padukone, 51, displayed the same forthrightness and economy of words, and the impeccable manners for which the former All-England champion was renowned in his playing days. The benchmarks set by him in an illustrious two-decade-old career will severely test the current lot.

Padukone, who released his biography written by journalist Dev Sukumar in Chennai and who is on the verge of finding a new sponsor for his Academy in Bangalore, emphasised the need to evolve error-proof procedural guidelines for the announcement of the Arjuna Awards. "One thing I realised was that the guidelines for the eligibility are not clear, especially issues such as who should be awarded and what should be the criteria," said Padukone, who was the Chairman of the Arjuna Awards Selection Committee in 2002. Padukone won the Arjuna Award in 1972.

Padukone says the guidelines should be publicised through public announcements and sent to associations and individual sportspeople. This, he says, is the first step towards ending the controversies that usually follow the declaration of the award. "Everybody should know who is eligible and who is not. Now, nobody knows whether one has to apply, or whether one should be recommended (for the Arjuna Award). Even sportspeople and associations are not aware. Why is there so much secrecy about it?"

Padukone says that though the Arjuna Award is given for sporting excellence in the preceding three years, it was not specific on various other aspects. "There are so many sports where people who applied were those who performed well in the 1960s and 70s. People who have not won the awards would keep on applying. They are just not aware of the rules," said Padukone.

"I WILL BE TOTALLY INTO COACHING. I will not take any big responsibility, but I'll concentrate on the academy."-

The maestro of `feather-touch badminton' says sports bodies in India should employ paid officials. "If I were to prioritise, the top-most thing will be to have full-time officials running sports in the country. There should be accountability. If it's a full-time job, people can be held responsible for their actions," said Padukone. Having run the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy (PPBA) in Bangalore for the last 12 years, Padukone does not see himself doing anything different in the near future. "I will be totally into coaching. I will not take any big responsibility, but I'll do it quietly. I'll concentrate on the academy. At this stage, that will give me the most satisfaction."

PPBA, which was started in 1994, has produced several top-class players such as the 2001 All-England Champion Pullela Gopi Chand ("he was with us for four years," said Padukone proudly), Aparna Popat ("for seven to eight years"), Anup Sridhar, Nikhil Kanetkar, Arvind Bhat, B. R. Meenakshi, Trupti Mrugunde and Siddharth Jain among others.

The biggest achievement of PPBA, sponsored by BPL and BPL mobile for 12 years, has been its commitment towards excellence and its steadfast adherence to certain core values. "We have been able to achieve what we set out for," said Padukone. There were sceptics who said an academy, which is privately funded and which conducts camps right through the year without charging a fee from players, would die a natural death. It did not. "If you have a good project, and if you are sincere, honest and dedicated and you deliver what you promise, there will be sponsors willing to support you. You have to establish credibility among the corporates. My motto is `you promise only what you can deliver', said Padukone.

Padukone has, at times, criticised the Badminton Association of India for its style of functioning. However, according to him, things have changed for the better over the past six or seven years. "Now there are more number of tournaments for both seniors and juniors. There is more prize money and more exposure irrespective of how well you are playing. There is also a fair bit of sponsorship, good incentives from the government and fairly decent job opportunities if you reach a certain level and scholarships for junior players. It's all comparative, don't compare it with cricket," said Padukone.

The discussion veers towards his daughter Deepika Padukone, a model and now into acting in films. What his father Ramesh Padukone did for him, he's doing for his daughter. "She was always interested in modelling. You try to encourage whatever your children enjoy doing. That's generally been my motto. Right from her school days, she was fascinated by modelling. She had a few advertisements while in school. Her mind was always there. Films are more professional and transparent. As a parent, all you have to do is teach your children the right values. They will decide what is good for them. Encourage them in what they enjoy and they are more likely to succeed." Spoken like a true gentleman-champion and an ideal father.

FACTFILE Senior National champion from 1971 to 79

Won the Junior and Senior National titles, 1971 (held in `72) at the Corporation Stadium in Chennai

Bronze medal in Teheran Asian Games in 1974 (team) Gold medal in the Commonwealth Games in 1978 in Canada (individual)

Bronze medal in World Championship in 1983 in Copenhagen

Wins Swedish, Danish and All- England Championships in 1980

Favourite players: Suresh Goel and P. Gopi Chand

Friend: Morten Frost

Awards: Arjuna Award in 1972, Padma Shri in 1982

Prakash's father, late Ramesh Padukone, was the Secretary of the Mysore Badminton Association.