MUMBAI: Pullela Gopichand has almost single-handedly engineered the badminton revolution in India. But the 46-year-old said that Indian badminton needs an ecosystem if it has to progress further.“For a long time I was the only system,” Gopichand, who guided Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu to their respective Olympic medals, said during a promotional event for his initiative ‘Badminton Gurukul’, here on Thursday.
“But now Saina has her own physios, strength and conditioning coach, and trainers and nutritionists. It’s the same with Sindhu, so they follow them. If I ask anything about injuries, they tell me our trainer has told this. So, I have to take two steps back. We are operating in a very different eco-system than say in 2016, when I made all the decisions for Sindhu. Now, Indian badminton needs a structure. You need a little more organisation.”
In 2001, Gopichand became only the second Indian to win the All England Championships. Though he won it after returning from multiple surgeries, the title hasn’t been Gopichand’s crowning glory. His biggest achievement has been how he turned Indian badminton into a conveyor belt of champions.“I knew the winning formula, but by the end of my career I didn’t have the body to implement it,” he said. “What I realised is that for Indians to start winning we had to play hard, be stronger, we needed to have that pride and arrogance (of champions) and we had to take care of diet and nutrition.”
Nowadays, elite sport operates on the cutting edge of science. And Gopichand micro-managed his wards, fine-tuned them into world-beaters. If Saina’s bronze at the 2012 London Olympics was historic, Sindhu’s silver at Rio was affirming. But with the growing list of achievers, the latest being doubles duo of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, Goipchand, maybe, has too much on his plate. Help has come from elite foreign coaches like Mulyo Handoyo and Kim Ji-hyun, but it hasn’t been a long-term solution.
“We need to start recognising Indian coaches and bringing more of them into the system,” says Gopichand. “I have been fortunate; I have got a lot of respect. But tell me one other Indian coach who has been celebrated.” The Badminton Gurukul is another attempt at broadening the base of coaches in India. It has brought into the fold various ex-players like Aparna Popat and Anup Sridhar and has set up 28 training centres in 14 cities.