Commonwealth Games 2018: Saina Nehwal’s pull-out threat is among lowest points in India’s sporting history

Saina Nehwal is as fine a badminton player as any. She has backed her wonderful talent, battled odds to rise to the very top and changed the face of Indian badminton. The 28-year-old — with an Olympic Games bronze medal, two BWF World Championships medals, 2010 Commonwealth Games gold and the Padma Bhushan — is one of India’s most consistent athletes.

Then again, despite having given the nation so many high points and reasons to celebrate her, she has shown that she is just as human as the person next door. And her threat of pulling out of the Commonwealth Games if her father did not get a bed in the Commonwealth Games Village in Gold Coast will be one of the lowest points in India’s sporting history.

 Commonwealth Games 2018: Saina Nehwal’s pull-out threat is among lowest points in India’s sporting history

File image of Saina Nehwal.

It may have been a pathetic leak — ostensibly from a disappointed Indian Olympic Association official — that exposed her, but there can be no denying that badminton superstar Nehwal’s e-mail to its Secretary General Rajeev Mehta made jaws drop in disbelief and eyebrows rise in consternation. Is this what our ace athletes resort to when called to play for the country?

Her brusque mail presented some the chance to see the other, perhaps flawed, side of a wonderful player whose rise as an Olympic medallist in 2012 helped accelerate a lot of young Indians’ shift towards badminton. It presented them an opportunity that many were hoping would not crop up after she appeared to make peace with national coach Pullela Gopichand last year.

To be sure, it is easy to understand that given the culture within the Indian team, she may feel isolated at the moment. Her need to have her father to pep her up at the Commonwealth Games is real. There can be no challenging that. But should she not have satisfied herself that Dr Harvir Singh had access to the Games Village, transport, catering and the stadium?

Whatever the provocation, no athlete should ever have to be seen as blackmailing the nation — even if it is its bungling sports officials — like Nehwal did in Gold Coast when she discovered that what she had paid for did not include a bed for her father. Clearly, such athletes do not want to understand the restrictions at such Games.

It is a pity that a superstar culture has crept into India’s sporting ethos. Starved of champions, India laps up everyone who performs well at the highest level and emerges as a world-beater. If the nation had a few more consistent performers on the world stage, perhaps India would be spared of such tantrums.

The IOA may have failed in ensuring that Badminton Association of India told Nehwal clearly enough that the extra official accreditation for her father would not ensure him a bed in the village. BAI appears to have been too busy with its election to pay any attention to the possibility of a public relations disaster in Gold Coast upon Nehwal’s arrival at the Village.

As for IOA, it is strange that it first ceded to her demands of securing her father accommodation in the Games Village and almost simultaneously let the e-mail get on to public domain. If Nehwal lacked grace and was petulant in first venting her angst on Twitter and then dashing off that e-mail without a second thought, IOA did not cover itself with glory either.

In leaking a screenshot of her e-mail, IOA may have sent a strong message to a larger community that while it would ensure the best possible facilities for athletes by having coaches, masseurs and physiotherapists in the Games Village, it would not let unacceptable behaviour go unnoticed. That has left fans divided between those who appreciate her action and those who flay her for being childish.

There is no doubt that Nehwal is a fine athlete but like the best in the world, she has her flaws, just like John McEnroe, Diego Maradona, Tiger Woods, Shane Warne et al. Then again, it is not as if she has had a spotless past either. Back in 2015 when she was overlooked for the Padma Bhushan, she threw a raging fit, even slamming the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports.

There can be no arguing that her threat to pull out of the Commonwealth Games will go down in history as one of the darkest moments in the annals of Indian sport. A wonderful athlete who had given so much joy and happiness will now also be remembered as someone who stooped low and held the nation’s sporting system at ransom.

Of course, she tried reaching Mehta over the phone, but there seems to have been no attempt to get in touch with her parent federation, BAI. After all, the IOA insists that it has repeatedly communicated to the National Sports Federations that extra officials would get accreditation, but not beds in the village.

Indeed, Nehwal is as fine a badminton exponent as any that India has produced. She is wonderfully talented, fought injuries, faced adversities and played a massive role in changing the face of Indian badminton. But she is just as human as the person next door. And she dragged herself down with her ill-advised pull-out threat.

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Updated Date: Apr 05, 2018 08:51:31 IST

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