They are the first Indian shuttlers to win a doubles gold at the Commonwealth Games, and were not expected to go under the hammer on Monday. Sadly, neither Jwala Gutta nor Ashwini Ponappa found any takers prior to the player auctions for the inaugural Indian Badminton League (IBL). While they were sold eventually, that their ‘icon player’ status became merely nominal is a direct fallout of the preference given to men’s singles over women’s doubles.
During the closed bidding for the icon players, none of the six franchises were ready to fork out the base price of $50,000 for either of the doubles specialists.
“Because of this issue, the closed bidding for the icon players was scrapped,” said Ashish Chadha, CEO of the league’s commercial partners.
Gutta and Ponappa’s base price was slashed by half - a reduction, sources said, caught both unaware. Ultimately, Gutta was picked up by Delhi for $31,000, Ponappa by Pune for the revised base price - $25,000.
Dwindling fortunes and fitness concerns aside, the lack of interest stemmed from a change in the format — the women’s doubles was dropped in favour of an extra men’s singles match.
The reason for this change was two-fold. “There’s less awareness about women’s doubles,” said Chadha. “But having only one men’s singles won’t let our player to have a go at the top shuttlers.”
NOT QUITE ICONIC
Neither Gutta nor Ponappa will suffer financially - the organisers shall pay the difference to “maintain their icon status”.
There are three players costlier than Gutta in her squad and four in Ponappa’s case. Contrast this with the inaugural auctions of the Indian Premier League - there, the select few were allotted, not auctioned, and guaranteed a sum that was 15 percent greater than the highest-paid player in their side. Prior to the first Hockey India League this year, the marquee players did go under the hammer.
But like the IPL, they were assured of sums substantially more than their teammates. So, while Sandeep Singh, out of favour with the national selectors then, was initially picked up by the Mumbai Magicians for his base price of $27,800, his salary was ultimately revised to $64,400.
Apart from the confusion regarding the icon players, there were discrepancies in the base prices of several players, something that was shrugged off by the organisers.
But another concern was several top internationals being made unavailable by their national federations - for instance, only nine and eight days in case of Tommy Sugiarto and Ratchanok Intanon, respectively. “It’s been a bigger struggle to get the federations on board. We’d signed contracts for the entire event, but then the federations would reduce the duration,” said Chadha.