She still wants to fire on all cylinders for Pune Pistons, but that does not take anything away from the fact that Commonwealth Games doubles gold medalist Ashwini Ponnappa is “deeply hurt”.
“As of now I don’t feel like an icon player”, said the 23-year-old, a day after being sold - or rather allotted - to the Pune franchise at the Indian Badminton League (IBL) auction, at just half the value of what was assured to her in November.
Back then, six players were given the status of “icons”, which ensured a minimum pay of $50,000 (Rs 29.8 lakh). Multiple delays and changes to the format of the league as well as its bidding process later, Ponnappa went for $25,000 (Rs 14.9 lakh); Jwala Gutta, the only other doubles “icon”, for $31,000 (Rs 18.5 lakh).
Ponnappa’s upset with the organisers, who she says did not keep her in the loop. “I’ve heard a lot of versions, but it’s been over 24 hours and I’m yet to hear from them,” she told HT.
That the league is footing the difference is small consolation to the aggrieved parties, who feel that it’s about respect. “I’d rather not have been bought at all than have my base price reduced just to be bought,” said Ponnappa.
Pushed to the backfoot, the organisers are adamant that footing the difference is akin to maintaining the “icon” status of the players - this despite not having a provision to ensure the “icons” are paid 15% more than the most expensive player in their respective sides, as is the norm in other similar leagues.
“If money is not the issue, then what is? They are still icon players and are getting what they were promised,” said TPS Puri, vice-president of Badminton Association of India and IBL’s governing council member. He drew a comparison with the IPL. “No one was willing to buy Chris Gayle. Then he started performing. If they (Ponnappa and Gutta) perform, they might go for much higher prices next time.”
Adding insult to injury, lesser known women’s doubles players Pradnya Gadre and K Maneesha went for whopping amounts many times their base prices, although for entirely different reasons. “The auctions for the Indian women’s doubles players happened right at the end, when teams were looking to get their balance right,” said a source. “That’s why Pradyna and Maneesha went for those prices while Christina Pedersen and Kamilla Juhl remained unsold.”
Then there was the fact that franchises were thinking in terms of potential points - there’s one on offer for each of the five matches in a tie. “Getting Saina or Lee Chong assures the team of one point,” said the source. “To have that same assurance from a mixed doubles match involving Jwala or Ashwini, the franchise needed to buy one more player - their male partner.”