You have to build a strong infrastructure

"I feel India should adopt the European style of coaching. We come from similar styles of play and training and if you wish, the players, as it happened in China, may become very good or they burn out fast. In India you need players who last long," says Morten Frost in this interview to Kalyan Ashok.

Sport is replete with classic rivalries and one that comes immediately to the mind is Bjorn Borg vs John McEnroe in tennis. Badminton's equivalent of such epic contests would be the ones between Prakash Padukone and Morten Frost. The two were great friends and sportive rivals on the courts, giving the fans around the world a lot to cheer. They had similar styles — touch play, deception and wristy stroke making. The bond between Prakash Padukone and Morten Frost became stronger when the Indian maestro moved over to Denmark in the late 1980s and they both benefited from that association as sparring partners and more so, Morten Frost. The great Dane went on to become one of the all time greats of the game, and finished with a glittering career haul of four All England titles (1982, 84, 86 and 1987), European titles in 1984 and 1986 and won all major Grand Prix titles, barring the World Championship. After his playing days Frost went on to become a coach and guided the Danish National team to 20 major titles, including an Olympic gold in 1996. He later coached Malaysia (1996 to 2001) and South Africa (2001-2004) before returning to his base in Aarhus. He was inducted to the Badminton Hall of Fame in 1998.

Morten Frost, 48, who was in Bangalore, spoke to Sportstar on the game. The excerpts.

Question: Which coaching method would you advise India to adopt, European or Chinese?

Answer: I feel India should adopt the European style of coaching. We come from similar styles of play and training and if you wish, the players, as it happened in China, may become very good or they burn out fast. In India you need players who last long, China has the luxury of having more players and given their strong base and numbers, it doesn't really matter to them how many stay on, because there are enough players for that extra mile. Given our similar background and needs in the game, we should concentrate on guiding players, who last long on the international scene.

What steps would you suggest to spread the game?

If I knew that, I wouldn't be sitting here (laughs). That is the job of those who run the game. The sport is governed by a democratic set-up and we have elected administrators to run the show and make it look better and it is their job to do that.

Does sending coaches to countries which don't have badminton culture help the cause? For instance, you spent quite some years in South Africa to popularise the game in that region.

I think it is absolutely necessary. But we have an unfortunate situation, where not many former players stay on even after quitting the international circuit. When they stop, they stop completely. But one good development is that badminton is now in the Olympic fold. Being in the Olympic Movement, the game gets IOC funding, which in turn can be used to spread the game.

How do you fancy taking the game to the US and making it big over there, since big bucks are in that country?

Ten years ago, I was saying the same thing. But now I realise that alone is not enough. Staging an event in the US and hiking prize-money with a big sponsorship deal alone is not going to be the answer. It would take a lot more than that. Getting Americans interested in the game is one thing and staging an event there is another. Sponsorship alone cannot be the deciding factor, sponsors you can find elsewhere too.

Morten Frost with his good friend Prakash Padukone.-K. MURALI KUMAR

I think, ultimately, spreading the game depends on how you sell the game. Getting a lot more TV coverage, which in turn should generate sponsorship also. A lot more should be done to provide a better coverage in terms of getting better angles. I know most of you in this country are into cricket, so how would you feel if the game is covered with just one camera? Nobody would watch, it would be so boring. Cricket now is covered with so many angles, bringing the game closer to the audience and viewers. In contrast, if you see some of our badminton clippings, you can find the camera clearly in one corner. Things have got better now, but it should improve further and really get on par with games like golf, where thanks to modern TV technology, you are actually with the player.

What do you think of the Quixotic attitude of the IBF on the scoring system?

I feel we made a muck-up and a lot of people think the same. Not in the change of the system per se, but the manner in which it was done. The process in which it was made, was not smart. For 10 years, we have been trying one system or the other and then dropping everything altogether and asking the players to go back to the old system, and then out of the blue, we go in for a new format after the Athens Olympics in 2004!. It was implemented without a discussion and what I find funny is that we have adopted a scoring system that was rejected by table tennis! The system has put enormous pressure on the serve, especially in doubles and to cope with that I would prefer we remove the far-end service line and allow players to serve up to the baseline. The game is now one serve and a couple of returns, that's not entertaining. The match is over in 20 minutes sans rallies and a lot of errors have crept into play also.

What does India need to do to produce players of calibre at regular intervals? After Prakash Padukone, it took another two decades for an Indian (Gopi Chand) to win the All England Championship.

I think you have to build a strong infrastructure. I think that is one of the reasons Danish badminton is surviving. We have excellent infrastructure and people are forced to utilise them. For far too many years, between Prakash and the present crop of Indian players, India went off the badminton radar. That has hurt Indian badminton a lot. It is nice to see more Indian players on the circuit and within a short time, they have been playing very well. It is important to play international tournaments than to stay in long camps. Let them play as many tournaments as possible to gain experience and they will always a get a second chance to do better. It doesn't happen if you coop them up in a long camp.

You wouldn't then advise long camps for Indian players.

Honestly, I don't. Possibly the best example that I can give in this context is that of Paul Erik Hoyer-Larsen. I was in charge of the Danish team in 1996 and as a run-up to the Olympics, Larsen, who had then won the All England title in March, wanted to stay back home and train long. He was among the favourites for the gold at the Olympics. But I insisted that he go out and play as many tournaments as possible before the Olympics. We had long discussions and even arguments. My contention was that competition makes a player sharp. Finally I had my way. Larsen played quite a few events before the Atlanta Games and won everything and went on to win the gold. He came back to me and said: "you were right, thank you very much". Opposite was the English team, they did what Larsen wanted to do. They stayed home and trained for almost four months before coming to Atlanta. None of them passed the second round. It doesn't mean that I am against camps as such, but what I say is go and play and come back for training. Fifty percent of both.

Would you advocate a uniform system of coaching for a country like India?

As long as a coach produces results with his own methods, why change it? Let us allow all systems to work and may be in a centralised national camp the coaches can exchange notes and learn from each other along with the players. Variety, as they say, is the spice of life.

You have won all the big titles in the sport, barring the World Championship. Does that remain a big regret?

Oh yes, that is a big regret. But I live with it (laughs). You know when I was playing the World Championship and whenever I lost, I thought there is a next time. For quite a few years, it went like that, finally there was no next time. So I went sort of blue. I had won everything except that and beaten all the top players who really mattered... but then, I have grown older and wiser and as I look back I am proud of what I have achieved over the years.

Can you single out the one defining moment of your career?

I may disappoint you with my answer. It was not the All-England or any other major Grand Prix, but an insignificant tournament back in Denmark where I, as a teenager, beat a lot of good players of that time in my country and won the title. It gave me hope and belief that it could be done. I have won a lot, lost a lot, but that success always stuck with me.

In your opinion, who is the greatest Indian player?

In my mind, I have no doubt in saying this... it is my good friend Prakash Padukone. We shared a great friendship off the court and tough rivalry on the court. Prakash was one of the most consistent players that I had ever seen in my career, always in the World's top four in his playing days. It is going to take a very long time for any Indian player to come anywhere near Prakash in terms of his achievements, consistency and mastery of strokes. But I wish you soon find one!