By HT Brand Studio | May 29, 2018
A series of consistent performances makes this a golden era for Indian badminton; however, a more systematic support system is needed to secure the future of sport in the country.
As the Indian badminton mixed team stood on the podium after clinching their historic gold at the Commonwealth Games 2018, it was a defining moment for the sport in the country: India had finally emerged as a powerhouse in world badminton, returning with their biggest medal haul ever from the multisport event.
It was the father of Indian badminton, Prakash Padukone who sowed the seeds of the sport in this country, with his historic gold at the 1980 All England Championship. Nearly 21 years later, Pullela Gopichand emulated him by winning the title in 2001.
The two men, however, didn’t sit on their laurels. The legends kept providing yeoman service to the country by opening their respective academies, which became the nurseries for India's world-class shuttlers.
The Gopi & Saina factor
A lot of credit goes to Gopichand for heralding a change in fortune for Indian badminton. It was under him that the dreams of many Indians took wings, after he took over the job of guiding India in 2004.
Under his guidance, a certain Saina Nehwal became the first Indian shuttler to reach an Olympic quarterfinal in 2008, a moment that triggered many young hopes in the country. She continued to break the Chinese stranglehold with her consistent performance and earned India’s maiden medal with a bronze at London Games.
With 23 international titles, including10 Superseries titles, Saina ignited the fervor of a sleeping giant.
When Sindhu arrived on the scene, she went one step further earning Indian badminton’s first ever silver at the Olympics in 2016.
Since that monumental Olympic final, Sindhu has starred in many marathon battles, the most epic being the Glasgow World championship summit clash against Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara that went down in history as one of the greatest matches clocking a mind boggling 110 minutes.
While Sindhu continued to rule the roost with two Super series titles, it was Kidambi Srikanth, who gave Indian men’s badminton a massive fillip grabbing four super series titles, a feat achieved by only three shuttlers across the globe ever.
B Sai Praneeth also added a maiden Super series title to his name at Singapore Open, while HS Prannoy went on a giant-killing spree in Indonesia Open as Indians won as many as seven Superseries crowns last year, besides the two medals at the World Championships.
India’s progress in global stage can also be gauged from the fact that currently there are five Indians in the top 20 of world rankings, four of them inside the top 10.
Saina and Srikanth, in fact, also had the world at their feet as they became number one; a feat achieved only by Padukone in 1980.Sindhu too came tantalizingly close when she held to the second position for two months last year.
New Heroes The Commonwealth Games also created new heroes as young Satwik Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty earned India maiden silver in men’s doubles, while Ashwini Ponnappa grabbed her third individual medal by winning a bronze with N Sikki Reddy.
The dream final between Saina and Sindhu at Gold coast was yet another pivotal moment. Their fierce on-court rivalry set a new benchmark and provided fodder to the badminton fans across the globe.
With the home shuttlers scripting new chapters, India found its rightful place amidst China, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Denmark but it has taken a lot of blood, sweat and tears to reach here.
A lot of planning and execution were needed to put a system in place. Gone are the days when top Indian players had to stay in dormitories and make do with cheap roadside stalls during overseas tournaments.
Government and corporate support
Over the years, the government support to the sport has increased many folds. With schemes like Target Olympic Podium (TOP) and Khelo India, government has shown the eagerness to train champion players and improve sports’ infrastructure. Corporate India too has joined in to give a facelift to Indian badminton.
Saina and Sindhu are now the new faces of non-cricket endorsement in the country with the latter inking an endorsement deal worth millions.
Saina, too, has signed various brand endorsement deals. Images of the two women now splash across our TV screens, something which was unthinkable a couple of years ago.
To ensure a continuous flow of quality players, India will need a proper ecosystem with more academies and coaches in the forefront. The Badminton Association of India (BAI) is already working in that direction as they have decided to set up five regional academies and one national academy.
India also need a more scientific approach to sports where physical trainer and sports nutritionist can work with genetic experts to help players reach their optimum fitness.
Play for happiness
The launch of PNB MetLife Junior Badminton Championship in 2015 has ensured that the next generation of Sainas, Sindhus, and Srikanths is nurtured. In the last three editions, the tournament handed out scholarships to the talented underprivileged children across different age groups.
The tournament will again see a plethora of young talents when the 4th edition begins with the Chandigarh leg on May 24 before culminating with the National Finale at New Delhi from August 9-10. A total of 8000+ young shutters will be showcasing their talent in 10 different cities.
The country is clearly on the cusp of a badminton revolution. With a little more systematic support, Indian badminton will soon cover the distance from being an emerging powerhouse to a world superpower.