Nagaland, the land of independent India’s first Olympic football captain Dr. T Ao, always seemed to hold promise. Yet as Manipur and the other sister states captured the imagination of the nation, Nagaland disappointed, except for producing Olympian archer Chekrovolu Swuro. For a state whose sporting achievements are far from impressive, Joseph Sumi is no less than a living icon. The biggest name in Nagaland badminton has ruled the North East circuit for 10 years as Men’s Singles’ Champion and five years as Double’s Champion. He has been the undisputed Nagaland champion for 15 times and till date continues to rule in the Doubles event, even at the age of 38.
In an interview to indianexpress.com, Sumi talks about his exploits and the rot that plagues sports in Nagaland. Excerpts:
What do you think is ailing Nagaland in sports?
Nagas have potential but they lack determination and dedication. That’s what I have seen. I have come across many budding talents but they do not persist; once they reach a certain level they tend to digress. Until you reach the peak, you can’t afford to lose focus. Naga sportsmen are not hard working.
How has sports evolved since the years when you first represented the state?
There has not been much development. It is true that the government in the last 15 years or so has provided support to sportspersons. But not enough. Given our natural abilities, we are not even close to expectations. Infrastructure wise, we would probably be one of the worst states in the country. We have a callous attitude towards sports though we harp about (being a) sports-loving race.
What went wrong with Nagaland Badminton?
The very fact that I am still playing and winning in the state tournaments is enough to tell you things are not alright. We do not have proper training facilities, indoor courts are not everything. We say ‘Catch Them Young’ but just catching them young is not enough. Picking up young talents for just a month or two of training camps won’t give any results. We have to mould them, groom them, continuously work with them. That is the problem with badminton in Nagaland. Since my playing days, my association and my coaches were all of the view that we need foreign coaches, especially Indonesian coaches for short camps. Till date that has not happened. We have to know their training methods, playing methods. Even the coaches need to learn. They are comfortable in their jobs. Coaches have to be on their toes as much as the players.
According to you, what has been the biggest moment in your career?
I have many wonderful memories, but the biggest moment would be my junior doubles match partnering Anup Sridhar at the Smt. Krishna Khaitan Memorial All India Junior Ranking Prize Money Badminton Tournament. We lost to the reigning champions after failing to defend a match point and ended up with the bronze medal. I was ranked India No.8 in juniors in both singles and doubles.
Anup Sridhar went on to become All India champion…
I was sent to Bangalore by the Nagaland Badminton Association for a month of coaching at SAI. I trained under Dronacharya awardee Ganguly Prasad, coach of Pullela Gopichand. Fortunately, after that, I was given a chance to train at PPBA for another 25 days. There I met Sridhar, Jwala Gutta, Deepika Padukone (who was playing those days) and Parupalli Kashyap. Seeing my play, they asked me to stay back and train free of cost. But when one of my seniors in Nagaland asked me to come back, I left the academy. As I was a junior and not in a position to take decision. I used to beat Anup Sridhar in practice matches. If I stayed back and trained there, I would surely have achieved greater heights.
Do you foresee another you anytime soon?
Frankly, no. Not in another five years time. Forget about me, no one today is even near to the performance that my colleagues gave in their peak time. That’s why my generation of players have been dominating the state circuit despite being way past our prime. But yes, I am positive we can deliver players who will achieve more than me or my colleagues. Among today’s crop of Nagaland shuttlers, Riku Khape has potential. Ankur Rai has also performed well. Today’s players need to set definite goals and we need to guide them.
Nagaland chose to forget a legend like Dr. T Ao. Do you think your achievements would make any difference in Nagaland sports?
Dr. T Ao was altogether at a different level. I am nothing. My life is about badminton; I do not care whether anybody recognises me. I just want to train and groom a new generation of players whose names should be known even beyond our country.
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