'Betrayal' of Jwala, Ashwini: IBL's backroom approach won't work

Betrayal. That's the one word that you don't want to be associated with. Not now, not ever. But even before the Indian Badminton League (IBL) has kicked off it finds itself embroiled in a controversy of its own making.

The talk of unprofessionalism has plagued the League right from its inception but this was hitting a new low. On a day when the talk should have been about the millions of dollars spent by the six teams of the Indian Badminton League, the conversation shifted towards the betrayal suffered by Ashwini Ponappa and Jwala Gutta.

The IBL had earlier announced there will be a total of six 'Icon' players starting with a base price of $50,000 in the auction. As in the case of the IPL, the league opted for India's biggest stars and made them the icon players. So Saina Nehwal, Jwala Gutta, Ashwini Ponnappa, Parupalli Kashyap and PV Sindhu were guaranteed a base payment of at least US $50,000.

AFP

Ashwini Ponnappa at the Olympics: AFP

But a few days before the auction, the IBL decided to cut the women's doubles format from the competition. The organisers felt there weren't enough “recognisable” names around to garner attention and also wanted more Indian players to figure in each tie, in the event of two mens singles matches. Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa have won a World Championship bronze but that came way back in 2011. Since then they have parted ways and struggled to attain the same heights with their new partners.

Once the IBL decided to cut the format, the six teams argued that it just wasn't worth paying a minimum of US $50,000 from either Gutta or Ponnappa. They would play only in the mixed doubles and that's simply wasn't enough value for money.

So in a 'secret' meeting, the IBL and the teams decided to reduce the base price for both the doubles specialists to US $25,000. It was a secret meeting simply because the players (Gutta and Ponnappa) were unaware of this meeting and even after the decision was taken, the IBL didn't inform the players.

Ponnappa told Mumbai Mirror: "It's a slap in the face. I feel betrayed. We were told that we were icon players and till Sunday we were promoting the event as icon players and now they make such a huge change and don't even have the decency of telling us."

Even after the auction was over, the IBL organisers Sporty Solutionz didn't bother contacting the players and telling them why the decision was taken. Both players found out on their own and that's when the feeling of being betrayed set in.

Ponnappa was irked by the way they were treated. It was not about the money. It was only about the disrespect shown to them by the organisers.

The Indian Badminton League has already been beset with delays. The League, itself, has been pushed forward thrice. The date of the auction was changed twice -- once because the teams had found no buyers and the second time because the last team, Mumbai Masters, found a buyer on the day of the scheduled auction itself.

The thought that immediately comes to mind is that if the organisers are capable of doing this to recognisable names then how will they deal with the lesser-known players?

The manner in which the IBL has been run resembles a fly-by-night operator out to make a quick buck. Take a note of this: despite taking a decision on cutting women's doubles early, the organisers did not officially inform the teams till Sunday afternoon -- just one day prior to the auction.

The organisers didn't even bother to give the teams a copy of the rulebook -- which was incidentally drafted just three days prior to the tournament. Imagine a multi-million dollar tournament not having rules in place just a few days before their first auction -- it's just plain scary.

Then comes the auction itself. Names of the players were not announced in alphabetical form nor were they announced as per their world rankings. It was haphazard and amongst all this chaos, the names of the players from the Gopichand academy were somehow announced before other higher ranked players.

So far, the IBL hasn't sent an official intimation regarding the composition of the teams -- and many believe (thanks to press releases issued by the IBL) that each team will have six Indians, four foreigners and one Indian junior player each. On Sunday, one of the teams put the question to organisers regarding junior players and were told that they didn't need to sign any. Remember this again is just one day prior to the auction. And as it turned out only four teams bought a junior player.

And the junior players who were bought weren't bought because they were juniors. The names were actually supposed to be announced in a separate list of juniors -- but the organisers didn't announce the list at all. The juniors who did get picked were signed because they have a senior ranking as well.

The chaos, somehow, has not been an aberration. It's been the norm. And all this even before the start of the tournament. Somehow, the delays and the chaos remind one of the Commonwealth Games mess and that can't be good.

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