Same crime, different punishment: BAI's disparate appraisal of Srikanth Kidambi, HS Prannoy for top sports awards

Frankly speaking, there is a lot of merit in Prannoy’s rant against the BAI. He should, by rights, have been nominated for the Arjuna Award in 2018 or 2019. His misfortune lies in the fact that Sameer Verma’s claim this year appears a mite stronger, and the ageing Thiruvananthapuram player may just have missed the boat in the stakes of having the coveted statuette adorn his mantelpiece.

Shirish Nadkarni June 20, 2020 20:10:58 IST
Same crime, different punishment: BAI's disparate appraisal of Srikanth Kidambi, HS Prannoy for top sports awards

Top shuttler Srikanth Kidambi has finally been recommended by the Badminton Association of India (BAI) for the coveted Khel Ratna Award, but stable-mate HS Prannoy, who has had a fairly decent run in national and international badminton over the past four years, has been ignored for the Arjuna Award.

Instead, Prannoy has been served a show-cause notice for his outburst against the BAI at the beginning of this month. The Kerala-born shuttler had loudly expressed his displeasure on social media platforms after the BAI had recommended the doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, and singles player Sameer Verma for the Arjuna this year.

It must be noted that the BAI recommendation of Srikanth for the Khel Ratna only went to the Sports Ministry after the World No 14 apologised for his act of pulling out of the semi-finals of the Asian team championship event at Manila In February this year, and abruptly leaving for Barcelona to play in a World Tour event. Incidentally, the 28th ranked Prannoy had done exactly the same thing, and left for Spain with his Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy (PGBA) batchmate, ignoring the Indian team’s semi-final needs.

While the BAI was justified in taking action initially against the two players on disciplinary grounds, it took a more lenient view in the wake of Srikanth’s apology for his Manila misdemeanour, and belatedly endorsed his claim to the Khel Ratna. India had eventually claimed the bronze medal in the event after losing in the semi-finals, but had a chance of barging into the final if Srikanth and Prannoy had been available.

Dispassionately speaking, Srikanth was a shoo-in for the country’s top sports honour. He had become the first Indian male shuttler to claim the official World No 1 crown – on 12 April 2018, after the earlier incumbent, Viktor Axelsen of Denmark, failed to defend crucial circuit points through his inability (as a result of injury) to play in a tournament he had won the year before.

Same crime different punishment BAIs disparate appraisal of Srikanth Kidambi HS Prannoy for top sports awards

File image of Kidambi Srikanth. AFP

A week later, on 19 April, Axelsen was back as World No 1, as a result of the Moving Annual Total (MAT) system of counting circuit points. But nobody could take away from Srikanth the honour of having been the planet’s pre-eminent badminton player on the Badminton World Federation (BWF) charts. Neither Prakash Padukone nor Gopichand, the country’s two best-known male shuttlers before him, were ever anointed officially as World No 1.

Although the 27-year-old Srikanth has seen a sharp dip in his form over the last one year, he had ended the year 2017 as the world’s best male shuttler by winning four Superseries (subsequently World Tour) titles – the Indonesian, Australian, Danish and French crowns – in a single year, and being runner-up in a fifth, the Singapore Open, to compatriot B Sai Praneeth.

No Indian has won four stellar international titles in a single season; and even at the international level, Srikanth has been surpassed only by the all-time great trio of Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei, and China’s Lin Dan and Chen Long, who have won more Superseries titles in a single season. Ergo, his claim to the country’s top sports award was never in question; and he only made things difficult for himself by blotting his escutcheon at the Asian team championships earlier this year.

The BAI, strangely enough, refused to be as accommodating towards Srikanth’s partner-in-crime at Manila, Prannoy; and instead, served him with a show-cause notice, asking him to explain his outburst on 2 June against the game’s governing body for having recommended the names of Rankireddy, Shetty and Sameer Verma for the Arjuna Award.

On Twitter, the 28-year-old Prannoy stated in a since-deleted tweet: “Same old story. Guy who has Medals in CWG and Asian Championships not even recommended by Association. And guy who was not there on any of these major events recommended. This country is a joke.”

On his Instagram page, Prannoy lamented: “Perfect picture of me trying to run behind all these so-called AWARDS (which I am never gonna get). Totally hurts as a sportsperson #totalscam. No wonder why we get 2 Olympic medals out of 1 billion population #ourcountrywillneverchange #corruptedsystem.”

It must be said that the claim of India’s top men’s doubles pair of Rankireddy and Shetty for the Arjuna simply cannot be ignored. The World No 10 pair, which also trains at the Gopichand Academy, is currently the front-runner to qualify for India at the Tokyo Olympics.

Satwik and Chirag have made rapid strides in international badminton, having won their maiden Super 500 event at Thailand Open and finishing runners-up at the French Open Super 750 tournament last year. The duo had also played a crucial role in earning India the historic gold medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, where they also won the individual men’s doubles silver.

Sameer, whose first big break was reaching the 2016 Hong Kong Open finals, failed to raise a decent gallop last year, but was in sizzling form in 2018, winning three World Tour titles – the Swiss Open, Hyderabad Open and Syed Modi Memorial – to reach a career-best ranking of World No 11. His dazzling run also earned him a place in the BWF World Tour grand finals in December 2018, where he was seventh out of the eight qualifiers, and won two out of three group matches to reach the semi-finals.

Same crime different punishment BAIs disparate appraisal of Srikanth Kidambi HS Prannoy for top sports awards

File image of HS Prannoy.

By comparison, Prannoy does not have as many feathers in his cap in World Tour events, although he has sporadically put in tremendous gallops at big tournaments, beating Lee Chong Wei and Chen Long, the 2016 Olympic runner-up and champion respectively, in successive rounds at the 2017 Indonesian Open.

Prannoy has three Grand Prix Gold titles to his credit – the 2014 Indonesian Masters, the 2016 Swiss Open and the 2017 US Open, the last at the expense of compatriot Parupalli Kashyap. In addition, he was a member of the gold-winning Indian team at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast; and also won the bronze medal at the 2018 Asian Championships at Wuhan, being ousted in the semi-finals by Chen Long.

A wrongly treated corn on one of his feet ruined the first quarter of 2019 for Prannoy, and he was never really able to recapture the form that had made him a feared player on the world circuit in 2018. Once on the fringe of the top ten in the world for a large part of the 2018 season, the Kerala-born shuttler has seen his ranking drop steadily to a current 28th spot on the BWF ladder.

Frankly speaking, there is a lot of merit in Prannoy’s rant against the BAI. He should, by rights, have been nominated for the Arjuna Award in 2018 or 2019. His misfortune lies in the fact that Sameer Verma’s claim this year appears a mite stronger, and the ageing Thiruvananthapuram player may just have missed the boat in the stakes of having the coveted statuette adorn his mantelpiece.

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