Fight between shuttling icons is doing more harm than good; BAI boss must step in, writes Sanjay Sharma
The war of words between two of the most iconic names in Indian badminton, Jwala Gutta and Pullela Gopichand, is indeed sad. This war has been one-sided since the doubles star has been taking swipes against the mild-mannered chief national coach. But things got out of hand after Jwala went hammer and tongs at Gopi after her victory at the recent Canadian Grand Prix. Normally quiet and reticent, Jwala’s women’s doubles partner Ashwini Ponnappa was also drawn into the battle, making some hard-hitting comments.
Even the Sports Authority of India (SAI) got into the act by absolving Gopi of all blame in the fiasco whose genesis goes back to the 2008 Olympic qualifications, when Jwala and her ex-husband Chetan Anand, a former national champion, felt that somehow the National coach was not forwarding their names to play abroad with a view to qualify for the Games.
Jwala Gutta and Pullela Gopichand
Gopi says he is not to be blamed for anything, neither then, nor now. “In fact, let Jwala cite one example where I have not supported her. The fact is that in the last 10 years or so she has been cleared by Badminton Association of India (BAI) and me to play in almost 200 tournaments. I have, in fact, encouraged the duo to play as many events as they wish. I have also forwarded their names for funding from the Sports Ministry whenever required. Apart from that, what more can we do? I do not know why she goes on maligning me everywhere.”
It is also mystifying why Jwala and Ashwini do not train at the national academy or at the Padukone Academy at Bangalore, which is also a national training centre.
The criticism against BAI also does not hold water, especially since the time Akhilesh Das Gupta took over as the President, he has ensured Jwala and Ashwini get all the respect and help from the national body. There have been so many instances where BAI has given cash grants to these two in recognition of their performances, and the President has ensured that their entries are sent wherever they wanted to play. In any case, just two years ago at the Delhi Nationals, Das Gupta sat down with Jwala to clear all misunderstandings, when there was a move to ban her, and assured her of full backing.
I have known both from close quarters. As national junior and senior coach I have had the pleasure of training Jwala in many national camps and also accompanied her to many international events. Her record speaks for her. She is by far the best doubles player the country has produced. Her great service to India cannot be ignored. But she is known to speak her mind. Jwala loves a fight and will never back down from a duel.
She is right when she says that the Indian system is simply not bothered about doubles performances and that the efforts of doubles players are not applauded enough. It is true that we have never had a specialised doubles coaching set-up. The BAI, however, along with Gopi, understand the matter and are working out a solution. But this could have been done earlier. Having also trained Gopi at national camps, and written his biography, I can vouch for his sincerity and integrity. He is a man of few words. He is not a person who will hound anyone out, with a view to destroy any one’s career. He is a selector and coach who also runs his own academy. There may be a conflict of interest, but surely if there is any wrongdoing SAI and BAI will come down heavily on him. If there is anything Gopi is afraid of, it is a dent to his image and honour, which he guards very zealously. He is extremely hardworking, focussed and highly result-oriented.I think both parties need to sit down and consider the situation which is not doing any one any good and giving the game a bad name. With the World Championships due in three weeks, and the all important Rio Olympics on the horizon, it may well be to benefit of everyone that the sane and sage counsel of Das Gupta prevails. He should sit down with Gopi and Jwala and bring about a truce, as the game is more important than any personalities involved. If anyone can make the feud end, it has to be the BAI President. For the sake of Indian badminton we hope it’s not too late for a solution.
The writer is a former India player