Badminton’s popularity has risen so much that it is competing with shooting to be the country’s No. 2 sport after cricket. It has drawn players from across India, many of them making a beeline to the couple of premier academies in the country. Each one of them dreams of making it big like a Saina Nehwal or a PV Sindhu or a Kidambi Srikanth has.
Yet, there are quite a few talented athletes who miss out on funding because they are not part of the system that is now in place. They are good enough to occupy top place in the ranking charts, but not enough to make it to the flagship TOP Scheme. Curiously, some of the next generation of badminton players may also have missed the support of some NGOs who support talented athletes.
First, some facts. The 10 badminton players in the flagship TOP Scheme are Kidambi Srikanth, Sameer Verma and HS Prannoy (men’s singles), PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal (women’s singles), Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty (men’s doubles), Ashwini Ponnappa and Sikki Reddy (women’s doubles) and Pranaav Jerry Chopra (mixed doubles).
The men’s singles players – Kidambi Srikanth, Sameer Verma and HS Prannoy – and the doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty are all supported by GoSports Foundation. The two women’s singles players – PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal –and doubles specialists Ashwini Ponappa, Sikki Reddy and Pranav Chopra enjoy the patronage of Olympic Gold Quest.
Of course, TOP Scheme has also identified Manu Attri and Sumeeth Reddy (men’s doubles) as well as Meghana Jakkampudi and Poorvisha Ram (women’s doubles) as badminton players on their watch list. Where does that leave players like Lakshya Sen, Varun Kapur, Priyanshu Rajawat, Vishnavi Reddy Jakka, Pullela Gayatri, Aakarshi Kahsyap and Malvika Bansod, to name a few?
Lakshya Sen and Pullella Gayatri have NGOs supporting them but not everyone is lucky. A number of affected players like Varun Kapur, Malvika Bansod and Rohan Gurbani cannot find the funds to play more international events. It could be too late if the funds are offered in the next couple of years. There is need to get sponsors on board to give exposure to the talented players.
The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports funds an athlete’s training after budgeting it either under the National Sports Federation’s Annual Competition and Training Calendar (ACTS) or the Target Olympic Podium (TOP) Scheme which supplements the ACTC by offering Rs 50,000 per month out of pocket allowance to the elite athletes and addressing issues not met under ACTC.
There was a time when athletes could apply for support from the National Sports Development Fund (NSDF) but with the onset of Target Olympic Podium Scheme, athletes outside the TOP Scheme have not felt encouraged to seek NSDF support. Come to think of it, even the Badminton Association of India has not deemed it fit to recommend the NSDF route to these players.
Of course, it would help if those managing TOP Scheme – with potentially deep research back-up – to keep an eye on the second rung of players as well and remind National Sports Federation if it has possibly overlooked deserving athletes. It is this synergy that will help Indian sport stay on firm footing as it makes the push towards more Olympic medals.
What is the back-up that the country’s junior players are getting? Some of them are on the Khelo India scholarship but that does not include any scope to cover costs of travelling to competition. And those who are not training at one of the Khelo India accredited academies for talent development, do not have access to Rs 3.8 lakh earmarked for transfer to such academies.
The Rs. 10,000 a month that the Khelo India scholars get as out of pocket allowance will hardly be enough to meet cost of travel, board and lodging as well as entry fee, not to speak of paying coaches and trainers. Everyone who knows the ecosystem will know that most elite athletes who have full time jobs and whose training and competition costs are covered by the ACTC.
Even if these juniors can get their tournament expenses reimbursed through the Khelo India Scheme, a lot their problems will be solved. The financial challenge faced by families, just because the players do not train in the leading academies is enormous. Their talent, hard work, focus and dedication are not in question at all.
So, what then is the solution?
It would be in the best interest of the sport that Badminton Association of India launches a junior development programme that will ensure that its high-performance managers are in touch with every player who has the potential to do well for India in the coming years, not just those who are attached to high-profile academies.
Come to think of it, TOP Scheme has not restricted itself to supporting athletes for the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games in Tokyo next year. There are a handful of athletes who have been identified as being worthy of support till 2024. It would make sense for NSFs and SAI, which is executing the TOP Scheme for the Ministry, to start recognising youngsters for 2024 now itself.
Yet, the truth is that many sets of parents may not be able to wait long for either the NSFs to make the move and include deserving players in their plans or for the TOP Scheme machinery to track as much for corporates to see an opportunity that they could chip in with funding under corporate social responsibility and take credit for being catalysts.
Of course, they will need to reach out to the corporate, approaching them with the right mindset, to be able to raise the resources needed to stay afloat. It is important that someone cracks the code so that all talented shuttlers have a level-playing field as far as the opportunity to compete in a number of international events.
There must be a way for athletes, who shine in the junior ranks despite not having similar training and exposure as others, to get extensive support to play in domestic and international circuits so that they are ready to step into the shoes of their senior players whenever they retire or are recovering from injury or illness.
It would be a pity if India were to lose talented players simply because their parents ran out of funds and kept waiting for a good samaritan to turn up. It would be wonderful if India Inc comes together and set up a fund for such purposes so that talented athletes, not part of the conventional (and official) assembly line, do not miss the bus.
These crossroads are the hardest to negotiate – for parents and athletes. India must find a way to help these players get past this conundrum so that the Children of a Lesser God – the second rung of athletes who are not part of the National camps – feel cared for. If you look around, you will find many such youngsters moving closer to having to make that big decision.
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Updated Date: May 24, 2019 16:17:52 IST