‘We are now beginning to make inroads in men’s doubles’

“Today as a coach, when you do things, there are a lot of factors involved and all have different viewpoints pulling in different directions,” says Gopi Chand in this interview with Uthra Ganesan.

Pullela Gopi Chand needs no introduction. The national badminton coach and a legend in his own right, Gopi Chand has been instrumental in not only raising the profile of Indian badminton in the last one decade but also making India a powerhouse in the sport. Gopi Chand spoke to Sportstar on the sidelines of the Syed Modi badminton tournament about his contribution to the sport, what motivates him and how he finds positives in every criticism. Excerpts:

Question: With most of the top players in the country coming from your academy, how do you adjust your schedule between them during tournaments?

Answer: It is tough, I have to accept. But each day is also a new learning for me. Hopefully, I will be able to give you an answer on this after five years but right now I just keep pushing myself and it is very motivating for me because I see new guys doing well. The enthusiasm is there, I love the sport and I have been able to do that, bring that enthusiasm in.

What do you do when two of your trainees are playing each other? Do you tend to avoid such matches?

It’s not that I avoid any match. But this is something I have seen for a while now. In the senior nationals, seven of the eight quarterfinalists were from the (Pullela Gopi Chand) academy. So I relax, I have no job to do.

I have no interest in a match when two of my players are playing. It is of purely academic interest to me. Even here, when (HS) Prannoy and (RMV) Gurusaidutt were playing, I was in the cafeteria enjoying my coffee. Even the players don't come to me. I only wish that they don’t try and push so hard that they are unable to do well the next day!

I only wish there are many more tournaments like this where there are Indians playing each other at the top level and we are all jobless!

India does well in singles. What about the doubles scene in the country?

Well, Manu Attri has done phenomenally in this tournament. It is something remarkable, beating so many top-ranked pairs in both men’s and mixed doubles (Attri reached the semifinals in doubles and final in mixed event). It is definitely a great result for all of us. I remember, till some years back, we would be asked why there were only women singles players in the tournament. Today, three of the four men semifinalists are Indians.

We are now beginning to make inroads in men’s doubles as well. But I think, structurally, we need to make quite a few drastic changes for us to make that big shift from being a singles nation. We need to systematically identify players at a very young age, have a structured training programme, start having more team and doubles events, start giving jobs and increase the prize money.

How would you rate your own contribution to the sport?

That’s a difficult question, I don’t really look at it in those terms. It may sound clichéd but, from the bottom of my heart, I believe this sport has given me a lot and I am grateful for it.

Having said that, yes the last few years have been very tough for a person like me, who needs to be very passionate and emotionally very connected. Events, instances become very important for me. I have had issues but what gives me the power to continue are the players, their response to my word and the affection they show me. And when I do feel low, something like the China Open happens.

Imagine the Indian flag going up in a Chinese stadium, full of Chinese, for badminton and our national anthem being played, twice, in that country. I really cried that day. Here, we have two Indians in the men’s final and I can go home. All this is a huge motivation for me and this, I believe, is my contribution to this sport for everything it has given me.

Do you feel hurt at allegations of favouritism or dictatorship?

Yes, I do, there is no denying that. But I draw motivation from that as well. I think it is important to understand that the highest level of sport is achieved by regimentation, discipline and structure and we, in our country, find these things very difficult.

Today as a coach, when you do things, there are a lot of factors involved — whether it is administrative or media or the ministry or SAI or even the judiciary — and all have different viewpoints pulling in different directions. We don’t have a culture of sport and it is very difficult. You will agree that a lot of good has happened in the last few years but if you talk to people who really know the stuff, they know I don’t work that way.