Badminton in India is in the throes of yet another unnecessary scuffle between the association and its players.
Though there have been several skirmishes in the recent past between the sport’s administrators and the practitioners, this episode rankles a little more.
The revolt has left many disconcerted, with some of our top players including Parupalli Kashyap, Saina Nehwal refusing to represent the country at the South Asian Games (SAG) in Guwahati.
Many of our top badminton players have vocally expressed their reluctance to represent India in the SAG to be held between 5 to 10 February in Guwahati and Shillong.
In an Olympic year, they contend, qualifying for the event and preserving themselves for the competitions in Rio should take precedence over the regional games.
It is true that BAI, badminton’s governing body in India, and SAI have done precious little to keep the feathers together on the shuttle. But the ensuing game of ping pong is an ugly reminder of the power struggle that threatens to rip apart the very fabric of this flourishing sport in India.
The fact that an upcoming Assembly election in Assam is driving some of the forces around the SAG to push for participation from India’s top athletes, only adds to the intrigue.
The relation between sport and politics at best is an inconvenient marriage and eventualities like these show up the fissures that often make it untenable.
The state sports ministry went so far as to issue a diktat to the various federations to ensure the participation of players in an effort to showcase SAG as a reflection of their commitment to the region.
Tarun Gogoi, the chief minister of Assam, is trying hard to use the games as a tool to reconnect with the people and extend his reign.
Amid the cacophony of divergent views and disparate priorities, sport and the athletes end up being shown in a poor light. The reluctance of Kashyap, for example, ought to be seen through the lens of injury and the demands of qualifying for the Olympics.
Kashyap suffered a calf muscle tear in October last year and recovered just enough to play in the Premier Badminton League this January. But an abdominal tear that occurred during the Syed Modi tournament in Lucknow has again complicated his situation.
"I lost out on a lot because of the injury. I failed to participate in as many as seven tournaments. I managed to play in PBL and Syed Modi GP Gold but an abdominal strain forced me to withdraw from Thailand Masters," Kashyap told the PTI, earlier this week.
"But now BAI and the government want me to play at the South Asian Games. I am in no position to. I can't play,” said Kashyap. “I have sent letters to BAI, and the ministry explaining my situation.”
“I also spoke to DG, SAI, Injeti Srinivas but still I haven't got any positive response. On the contrary, I received the tickets for Guwahati today. I am feeling very frustrated," said the player.
Saina, too, is going to be absent in Guwahati.
A lot of last-minute wrangling and negotiation with the involvement of Pullela Gopichand has secured the participation of P V Sindhu and Srikanth Kidambi, who were also not very keen on the competition. Given their high rankings and the lack of competition on offer, the athletes have a point.
Instead of trying to force reluctant, injured senior, the authorities should have used the opportunity to blood young talent and give them an opportunity to battle in national colours.
Given the stature of the games, some of the up and coming athletes would have been more than eager to lap up the chance to win medals and secure their future through the support framework that rewards success at this level.
In the end though this is another instance of administrators and politicians working at cross purposes to the very objective of their existence – the development of sport and athletes in the country.
Perhaps, the players too need to find a more suitable mode of communication than hang all this dirty laundry out in the open.