badminton: The rise and rise of Indian badminton | badminton news


The Thomas Cup spectacle raises its popularity stakes
HYDERABAD: India’s splendid achievement in qualifying for the Thomas Cup final has stunned many around the world. As Indian fans celebrate this monumental occasion, the magnitude of this victory will only be understood by serious followers of the game. Winning individual titles is different, but succeeding in team events like the Thomas Cup indicates the depth of the game. Indian team. It also tells us how far the sport has come, compared to 15 years ago when there were few fans.
In the late 90s, Pullela Gopichand’s mother, Subbaravamma, used to call newspapers and TV stations to give her son’s game scores.
Things didn’t change much even after Gopichand’s triumph at the English Championships in 2001, but once he took over as India’s head coach there was steady improvement no only from the performance of the players, but also from the popularity of the sport.
Much of the credit for this turnaround goes to Gopichand. Gopi himself points to three major incidents and personalities for turning the nation’s shuttle sport fortunes around.
In 2004, when Sania Mirza won the WTA Hyderabad Open singles title, the tennis stadium was packed. This made LV Subramanyam, then vice-president of SAAP, understand that to popularize a sport, you have to organize international tournaments. From then on, every year Hyderabad hosted an international badminton event and the world championships in 2009. “His (LV’s) foresight helped us to improve the popularity of the sport,” Gopichand said.
The second incident was Saina’s quarter-final at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. People started noticing Saina and following her every move. She too did not disappoint her fans and when she played in the Commonwealth Games final in New Delhi, the stadium was packed and the police struggled to control the crowd outside the stadium.
Thereafter, Saina started winning one tournament after another. The NRIs started following her to any country where she played.
Indonesia is one of Saina’s favorite hunting grounds. It is said that even taxi drivers recognize her there and some even refuse to take her on the ride!
Although Saina became the first female commuter to win a bronze medal at the London Olympics in 2012, she did not get due credit as the Indians also won medals in other disciplines.
But the following year, Sindhu took over, winning World Championship medals year after year.
Badminton’s popularity peaked when she won the silver medal in singles at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Sindhu won the medal towards the end of the Games and it helped that no other Indian had won a medal in Rio until then. And soon the nation was cheering Sindhu’s silver and Sakshi Malik’s bronze in quick succession. The whole country watched Sindhu’s final against Carolina Marin and the moment she arrived in Delhi proudly sporting the silver medal, she was swarmed with fans at the airport and hotel. The 20 km long victory procession in Hyderabad was watched in awe by millions across the world.
Kidambi Srikanth helped popularize the sport by winning four Super Series titles, a feat no Indian has achieved. Srikanth and Saina became world No. 1, even though it was only a week each. And in keeping with their accomplishments and the growing stature of the game, all three – Saina, Sindhu and Srikanth – have signed lucrative deals.
The continued success of these shuttles, all of which originated from the Gopichand academy, changed the face of the game as thousands of academies sprung up across the country. The emergence of Lakshya Sen added to the sparkle of the game. In his All England final, the youngster who is training at Prakash Padukone Academy in Bengaluru, enjoyed the support usually reserved for Saina and Sindhu. That someone like Unnati Hooda, the 14-year-old without training from any reputable academy, won the Odisha Open International event shows that there is a lot of talent in the country.
“You have three singles matches in the Thomas Cup. Even if you have 10, India will be tough to beat because such is the depth we have in this country,” Gopichand said.
Besides being the head coach, Gopichand and veteran administrator Punnaiah Choudhary have worked tirelessly to find sponsors for the tournaments. “At first it was very difficult to get sponsors. We knew so many people and everyone liked Gopichand but very few gave money. Gopi used to ask me, ‘sir, is it so difficult to get sponsors?’ We struggled to get money for the events we ran between 2005 and 2010,” Punnaiah said.
Along with his friend Srikanth, Gopichand would spend many sleepless nights getting everything set up for the tournaments. But Saina’s gold medal at the Commonwealth Games changed things. The decision of then BAI President Akhilesh Das Gupta to move these tournaments from Hyderabad to Delhi also helped the sport.
Prior to 2006, an Indian commuter entering the main draw or entering the top 100 was major news. But now, dozens of Indians enter the main draw of several international events each year and entries for domestic tournaments exceed 3000!
From just entering the tournament to Indians reaching the final of international events has become a regular feature now, and they even have a dedicated fanbase, especially in Switzerland, Birmingham, Malaysia and Indonesia.
There is also intense social media activity whenever an Indian wins a title. Celebrities like Anand Mahindra, Rajnikanth, Amitabh Bachchan and many movie stars are sending congratulatory messages. Prime Minister Narendra Modi never forgets to applaud the Indian team.
Age group commuters now find it easy to believe they can make a career out of the sport and confidence levels have soared with the Premier Badminton League being added to it as international stars feature on the teams. Prize money has been increased for national tournaments and badminton has never been better in the country.

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