After being nominated for the prestigious Arjuna Award, shuttlers Sikki Reddy and Buss Sumeeth Reddy have said that doubles players will soon start delivering results at par with their singles counterparts.
"I feel honoured that the Badminton Association of India (BAI) has nominated my name for the Arjuna Award. There are no words to explain (how I feel). It’s just a nomination (right now), I can't say anything because it's a big (lengthy) process. I hope I get it because my results in the last four to five years have been consistent. I’m doing really well and also reached the top 15 in the mixed doubles," Sikki told Firstpost.
"It is a good move as in the last few years I have been performing well. I won the Nationals twice. In fact, I also won the South Asian Games. Moreover, I am the only Olympian from India to be nominated who has represented men’s doubles. I think I have done enough to be recommended for the Arjuna Award," said Sumeeth, who is one of the only two Olympians to represent India in men's doubles alongside Manu Attri.
“All we want is some appreciation even when we win a small tournament. We do need some encouragement. In the last few years, the singles players started winning Grand Prix Gold or Grand Prix events and now they have started winning Superseries. Before Olympics, PV Sindhu had never won a Superseries but now she is winning those too. She got so much experience (by playing) in a big tournament. Just like that, give us more time and we will start winning Superseries. Now the association is finally recognizing (our talent) and sending pairs for competitions,” said 23-year-old Sikki.
“Our performances have been improving, if you talk about winning a Grand Prix or Grand Prix Gold four years back, it was a huge thing. I can see the graph going upwards but still, I think there is time for doubles. Singles players have just set the bar high. We should be patient and at the same time not look down at the doubles. It’s just a matter of time. A little support can actually change things,” Sumeeth added.
The only other doubles badminton players to have won the Arjuna are Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa.
Despite the nomination, the duo is clearly irked by the treatment doubles shuttlers — sometimes unfairly considered as the weak link in Indian badminton — get. The pair has called for an end to the step-motherly treatment meted out to doubles players in the country.
“Can you tell me who was the top doubles player from Syed Modi’s time? Can you name one from Prakash Padukone’s time? During Pullela Gopichand’s time? No? Our system has been brought up like that,” pointed out Sikki.
While the spotlight is perpetually on the singles players, doubles stars tend to live among the shadows. Equality has been their lament for many years now.
“Our system has been created like that. I don’t want to point (fingers at) anybody or anyone. From the early days, they should have supported the Indian doubles players and done something for them. During Saina’s (Nehwal) time, at least we had one good doubles pair in Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa. But now, the change is slowly coming. Now is the time that the association or the government has to treat doubles the same as singles for the next generation at least,” exhorted Sikki.
“Media coverage is one issue. But it’s not the only one. Not highlighting our issues and waiting for one of the Indian pairs to win Superseries is another. It is understood that singles will dominate in sports as the credit goes to a single person and in doubles, it is divided,” added Sumeeth.
"When we played the Syed Modi final in 2017, there should have been some monetary support or a small memento, saying that doubles pairs are doing well. That will also motivate and help the juniors to do well," said the 25-year-old shuttler. "We are consistent but we still don’t have a single sponsor. Nothing to do with anyone in general but when Sindhu won the Syed Modi, BAI announced Rs 5 lakhs cash price but when I won it with Ashwini, there was no announcement whatsoever. That’s the difference.”
Sikki shared a tale of indifference during a training camp.
“I once trained in a camp in Lucknow where there were no proper facilities. I was staying in some guesthouse, which was very scary first of all. I had to walk one kilometre up and down to go to the stadium. Not to mention, the food was not so good."
Sikki pointed out that the lack of proper guidance for doubles players at a younger age also stunted their growth.
“I started playing doubles at the age of 18 but outside India, shuttlers start playing doubles when they are 12-13 years old. Now at least in India, the kids are taking up doubles from the age of 13-14. If you see me, Sumeeth or Pranaav (Jerry Chopra), we all started doubles pretty late and we played both, singles and doubles. The reason for that is because we did not have any coach or system to guide us and help us choose doubles. Now, these upcoming doubles shuttlers like Satwiksairaj (Rankireddy), Chirag (Shetty), etc started playing doubles at the age of 13-14 and they never played singles,” she said.
What’s even more astonishing is that until July 2015, India did not have a single special mixed doubles coach.
"We did not have any special coach for mixed doubles as such. We just got a coach, Tan Kim Her, some time back and one can see a lot of difference in doubles. Everyone is doing really well. You can see three Indian women’s doubles in top 30. We were zero and within a span of a year, we broke into the top 15. More exposure and experiences will make us get into the top 5 in the world," said Sikki.
"Since Tan came in, there is a system in place. Before his arrival, we were playing only with the help of Gopi (Pullela Gopichand) sir but he had so many singles players also. It wasn’t easy for him to take care of 40 players at a time. We did our training and own program. Now, there is a proper schedule in place and we follow our coach," said Sumeeth.
While the pair is looking forward to the Arjuna Awards ceremony in a few weeks, Sumeeth is focusing on the upcoming Sudirman Cup. Meanwhile, Sikki has her eyes set on bringing glory for the country. "I am aiming for the Commonwealth Games above everything because I want to get a medal for my country in doubles," she concluded.
Updated Date: May 16, 2017 12:49 PM