The Bombay High Court’s observation that a national coach should not run a private academy due to the conflict of interest involved is the most ideal scenario. But an unfeasible one at this stage in Indian badminton.
If the High Court’s order in the case filed by Prajakta Sawant against chief national coach Pullela Gopichand, is to be implemented to the T, then only a foreigner can become a national coach at this juncture.
A tertiary glance at the badminton pockets in India is enough to ascertain that any person having the inclination or the ability to become the national coach is currently running an academy in some part of the country.
And their basic question is that why should they stop their personal academies and take the job of the national coach or come on the national panel, remuneration for which is not enough even to run their household.
Even before Gopichand became the national coach in 2006, then chief national coach U Vimal Kumar used to have a similar argument with the BAI officials as the chief national coach was paid just Rs 25000 per month while the foreign coach was paid around $2500 (approx 1 lakh).
The situation has still not changed with the Sports Authority of India (SAI), which mostly pays the coaches salary, not willing to match the Indian coaches remuneration with that of the foreign coaches irrespective of the quality of the coach.
This has meant that the chief national coaches are reluctant to move out of their centre to conduct national camps and it has become a practice for over two decades now that the national camps are held at the academy centre or in the city where the coach resides.
That definitely gives an undue advantage to the player’s of the academy as they get a chance to train with the international level players and thereby push for national squads.
In the last few years, there have been cases when a Gopichand Badminton Academy player has been preferred over an “outsider” in the national squad when the selection was not an open and shut case.
But one needs to understand that the selection is not the prerogative of the national coach alone and the panel involves five other members who have voting rights unlike the national coach, who is there in the panel by virtue of his position.
And this is where the problem starts. Most of these selectors are blissfully unaware of what is happening on the national and international circuit and are rarely present at domestic tournaments to watch the players in action. This allows the national coach to push his agenda.
The legendary Prakash Padukone was absolutely right when he said that the selection panel was “passive” and need to play a more active role.
I have known cases where the selectors don’t even know the name and stature of the tournaments they were going to select the teams for — just 24 hours before the selection panel meeting.
Most of them are happy taking their allowances and signing on the list proposed by the national coach as they have never seen the players in action.
It is high time, the Badminton Association of India makes it mandatory for all these selectors to attend the domestic tournaments or ask them to step down and replace them by more active members.
In the last few months, only Vimal Kumar had been raising an isolated voice in the selection panel meetings to bring in more accountability and transparency in the process.
We hope that the High Court order would trigger that change.