The Badminton Association of India decided to broadbase selection to the Indian teams to deal with allegations that only players from national coach P Gopichand’s academy were getting picked. The BAI also conducted two selection tournaments ahead of the Asian Games, and applying a mix of criteria – international ranking, domestic performances and aggregating points — announced a team for Jakarta. This simplistic, transparent process though, has run into controversy with doubles player Aparna Balan contending she deserved to be in team, while piling on the Conflict of Interest allegation after Gayathri Gopichand, daughter of chief coach was picked as sixth singles player in a team of 10. BAI president Himanta Biswa Sarma answers questions about the conundrum.
Selection has run into trouble again. Your thoughts?
We had very respected former players like Vimal Kumar and Aparna Popat present in that meeting. The selection committee collectively decided to pick 6 singles and 4 doubles players. This is the call of the selection committee. I have not played badminton so on that count I can hardly decide if Saina, Sindhu playing doubles is a good tactic or not. There can be debate, but I don’t wish to interfere in tactical badminton matters. The process was transparent.
But there is still a controversy?
What bothers me is that there is no dispute on the core players, but I’m a bit concerned that there is a dispute on little things and on reserves. This will demotivate the whole team. So I want to know what is the basis of these arguments? I see individual interests in this reserves dispute, but it’s avoidable from team point of view because Indian badminton should be given a chance. These were objective criterion, but it is the selector’s subjective call.
Gayathri Gopichand’s selection has again raised a ruckus. Was there pressure to include her?
I have all the oral recordings of the meeting. Gopi infact had opposed her picking vehemently because he told me no matter what he will get criticised. But I said your daughter can’t be penalised for being your daughter.
Is him being on selection committee a conflict of interest?
Gopichand is our only full-time coach and to be honest, knows all players because that’s his job. It’ll be a loss if he is not used in selection. In the name of Conflict of Interest, Gayathri will always be contentious and we’ll have to keep chief national coach out. Whether that’ll be good for Indian badminton, we need to think hard. I can ask him tomorrow to sit out of selection, but that will come at the cost of Indian badminton. Who’ll fill that requirement? We can try that also, but it’s tricky.
Are you worried that India is busy with infighting while all other Asian powers are focused on Asiad?
See, the impression is being created because of this issue that the entire selection is bad because it’s on erroneous grounds. It’s damaging and I’m concerned though it’s only reserve players.
What do you plan to do about this?
After Asian Games I’ll ask Prakash Padukone to act as arbiter. He’s respected and a neutral. When the court matters are over, I will tell him to please tell us where we have gone wrong. You have to understand that unlike cricket, we don’t have so many names of international stature except Padukone and Gopichand. We are developing transparency, but we have to listen to these voices to grow our badminton.
Right ok, but what happens of this selection process?
The new generation is coming through and I’m looking beyond Asian Games and right upto 2024. The country can’t rely on 2-3 players. So after Asian Games, the BAI plans to send a group of these youngsters on 3 international exposure tournaments at our cost. Then in December we will again have selection tournaments, then in April and July, every four months there will be an assessment. We will perfect the system.