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India fails to create inclusive opportunities for young badminton players to blossom

By Sudhansu R Das 

India has won a lone bronze in the World Badminton Championship 2022 in Tokyo in the men’s doubles event. Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy fought brilliantly to win bronze after losing the semi final. Men’s singles’ player, H S Prannoy had the resolve, power, composure and accuracy to shine but he could not reach the semi final. India’s only hope, Lakshya Sen lost to Prannoy in the pre quarter final. The rest of the players could not shine and lost in the initial rounds due to lack of accuracy, energy, focus and age factor. Kidambi Srikanth, 29, HS Prannoy, 30, Saina Nehwal, 32, Ashwini Ponappa, 32, Sai Praneeth, 30 and N Sikki Reddy, 29 had participated in the World Badminton Championship 2022. Except Lakshya Sen, 21 there was no good player in the age group between 20 and 28. The point is why India has failed to send talented young players in their 20s for the high level tournaments? India’s top players in their late 20s and early 30s could not make it to the semi final and final; it may be due to age factor. India was pushed to the 9th position and was placed below small countries like Malaysia, Thailand, China-Taipei and Indonesia. How to send young talents for the high level competition by creating inclusive opportunities has become a big challenge before the country.
India has failed to send a quality player to substitute for P V Sindhu in the WBC and sent Saina Nehwal, 32 to compete in the women’s singles. Though Saina is one of the most creative players with an array of shots which she uses to surprise her opponents, she can’t reverse her age and reflex at this age; the singles tournament demands a high level of energy, accuracy, fitness and skill. There was a huge gap in the women’s squad after Sindhu withdrew from the game due to injury. P V Sindhu, 27 will find it difficult to maintain her form for another two years; India needs to groom more young players who can substitute the top players who are in their late 20s and early 30s.
Though India has become a badminton power in the last ten years, the country has not created inclusive opportunities for young players in small cities, towns and in the state capitals across the country. Professional coaching and quality badminton infrastructure are accessible to a few players in Hyderabad, Bangalore and to some extent in Pune. This is one of the reasons why India fails to send players in the age between 18 and 25 for the top level tournaments.
Among the players who practice in these three cities, only a miniscule percentage of players receive professional coaching and quality infrastructure. Though many of the young players aspire for a badminton career, many unseen factors like politics, lack of employment opportunities after retirement, leg pooling, aggressive monetisation of the sports and regionalism etc pull them down; caste factor also plays a role in some states.
When young talents do not get scope to blossom at an early age it naturally discourages them and their families. This is the main reason why they do not focus on their badminton career. A few players who rise to the top remain there for a long time blocking the progress of many young talents. It is fortunate that India has got a young player Lakshy Sen who shines at the age of 20 and holds 9th position in the world ranking. After winning bronze in the 2021 world championship, a silver in the All England Open and a gold in the recently concluded Common Wealth Games, Sen has set his lakshya to win more medals for India.
India is a big nation with 142 crore people; there should be inclusive opportunities in the country so that India could become a real badminton power after China. Badminton infrastructure should be created in all state capitals, small cities and towns so that young talents could take interest in the sport. Quality coaching facilities should also be available in those places so that people won’t come to Hyderabad and Bangalore for advanced coaching.
Today, Hyderabad is known as the Mecca of badminton in India. In fact, a miniscule percentage of young players are able to get quality coaching and badminton infrastructure in the city. The rest of the players are far behind the present level of competition due to the limited number of standard coaching centres, good coaches and high cost of badminton equipment; the most difficult part in Hyderabad is commuting to the standard coaching centres; those centers cannot absorb so many youngsters. Local children find it very difficult to reach good coaching centres due to unreliable public transport systems; it is not convenient to travel in Metro rail also as one has to travel to reach the station to board the train and has to travel to the coaching centers after getting down from the train. The entire exercise is too time consuming. Only rich parents arrange chauffeur driven cars for their children to attend coaching. Hardly four to five quality coaching centers in Hyderabad cannot create inclusive opportunities for more than 1.2 crore people. “My son used to go to RRC when school closed at 2.45 pm. He plays there up to 8 pm and used to catch an auto to reach home at 9 pm,” said Prasant Reddy of Ameerpet. Heavy traffic, pot holes filled roads and pollution always strangle the badminton scope for a large number of children in Hyderabad. Nine out of ten automobiles use the high beam headlight making two wheeler drive extremely dangerous at night. The auto rickshaws charge any amount from commuters as the majority of the rickshaws do not have meters and nobody checks the meter to ensure its correctness.
It is reported that senior badminton coaches give private lessons to rich kids in their residence; they charge lakhs of rupees to coach rich kids. A vast majority of badminton players in the city use plastic shuttles due to the high cost of Yonex feather shuttles; without feather shuttles one can’t imagine becoming a good player. Many fake coaches take advantage of the parents’ eagerness to make their children badminton players. They just exploit the gullible parents to mint money and in the process they waste the precious learning age of the children. Despite so many hurdles, Hyderabad produces world class players. Imagine if the game becomes more inclusive, India could easily beat the top badminton playing nations.

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