Ask him how Indian badminton players are doing and he will tell you that this very question means they are doing fine. What Pullela Gopi Chand will not tell you is the fact that it's him who has initiated a mission to take Indian badminton to the world level, something the country can't boast of when it comes to most Olympic disciplines.
Does India have a chance in a world championship? Can India have a world No. 1? These are unheard of questions barring cricket. It's because of Gopi Chand that Indians are expecting someone to deliver when it comes to badminton. With boxers and shooters, shuttlers too are capturing the Indian imagination these days. The former All England champion and world No. 4 tells us why.
You launched a mission to produce quality badminton players soon after retiring as a player. What's the state of progress?
It was a dream to see Indian badminton going places. Initially, it was about getting top-notch events in India, so that the Indian players could take on the world's best in their own conditions with home support... so that the Indian media and the crowd could see top-quality stuff firsthand. It has worked well. We've had a few top tournaments in India including the world championships. We also have at least one Indian presence in the top 20 of world rankings in every category. So we've done well, the next step is to enlarge this base.
Taking the case of boxing as example, India has won a medal each at the Olympics and in the world championship after having five boxers in the quarter-finals, which is a step away from the medal bracket. Do we have the numbers in badminton yet?
In the men's side, it's looking good because we've five in the top 50 and two more in the top 60 or thereabouts. This isn't the case yet when it comes to women and maybe it will take Saina (Nehwal) to inspire a generation of players. It's a question of developing infrastructure now. Badminton is the second-largest sport in the country and we are hosting top international events. The performance graph will rise if we start investing in basics.
Do you sense any betterment in the way the Indian public, sponsors and government look at Olympic sports these days?
The kind of government patronage we are getting for the Commonwealth Games is unprecedented. We are getting enormous support. The key here is to have good infrastructure and identify the areas to spend in. There's no point in spending only on the cream. No doubt, we've to take care of the top but we can't neglect the bottom. In terms of badminton, all the developmental work is taking place in the south...there is need to revive the other centres which used to produce good players.
Are we treating the Commonwealth Games with too much of importance?
The Commonwealth Games continue to be the second biggest event at the world stage as far as the number of countries taking part is concerned. It's bigger than the Asian Games. Irrespective of the world standards, this is certainly an event India will benefit from. And as far as badminton goes, the presence of England, Malaysia and Singapore ensures that the competition will be of a high level.