Things only seem to get worse between the Badminton Association of India (BAI) and India’s top doubles pair, Ashwini Ponnappa and Jwala Gutta. After not being picked in the first list of the Target Olympic Podium (TOP) scheme, they find no place in the new list of 39 athletes either, released by the Sports Ministry. The TOP scheme was launched by the Sports Ministry in an effort to increase the medal tally at the Olympics by supporting and encouraging athletes who had a realistic chance of winning medals at the quadrennial event. Under this scheme, enhanced flow of funds, competition exposure, training, technical and medical exposure are promised.
In the first list released by the Ministry in early March, India’s best doubles badminton pair of Jwala/Aswhini were not included in the 45 athletes named. The hand of National coach P.Gopichand, who shares a troubled relation with the women’s pair was suspected. Gopichand is also on the TOP committee to pick athletes, which also includes Rahul Dravid, Abhinav Bindra and BJP MP Anurag Thakur. The 2011 World Championship bronze medallists and Glasgow games silver medallists have always been given the high-handed treatment by the governing body of Indian badminton,BAI on which the national coach has a stranglehold.
The Sports Ministry has now released a new list of 39 more athletes under the TOP scheme and the 2010 CWG gold medallists have not been included again. This reeks of ignorance from the Ministry and TOP committee or some personal vendetta. That the 18th ranked pair have not been considered a medal prospect is shocking, looking at what they have achieved over the years. This is also in continuation of the ill-treatment and negligence shown towards doubles events by the BAI and Sports Ministry.
As a part of the team, the doubles teams are very important in Team competitions like the Uber Cup, Thomas Cup, Sudirman Cup and the team events in the Asian and Commonwealth Games. They make up a majority of the matches and can be crucial to the team’s fate, as seen in the latest Sudirman Cup and Uber Cup. But the BAI has turned a blind eye towards doubles, not even appointing a specialist doubles coach even after years of protests and requests. None of the them receive proper sponsorship, or support. With Jwala and Ashwini deciding to go public about this, the BAI has now shut shop on them. Both of them train separately now, making things tougher.
With the assistance of the TOP scheme, they could have surely taken help from foreign coaches with the influx of funds and also proper medical support. Yet, with this latest development it seems that the Sports Ministry is also hand in glove with the BAI in settling personal scores and depriving India of a medal prospect. It’s high time this step-motherly treatment towards doubles badminton comes to an end. The nation has budding prospects in Manu Attri, Sumeeth Reddy, Pranaav Chopra, Pradnya Gadre, Sikki Reddy and Akshay Dewalkar. It’s time the players and fans raise their voice and the concerned boards and ministers take notice. Jwala/Ashwini should be the last pair to have had to fight it out on their own.
Read Essentially Sport’s report on when Jwala and Aswhini were left out of the first list.