Updated: September 21, 2017 8:20:33 am
The controversy that has broken out over Gayatri Gopichand’s selection to the junior world championships will distract from ascertaining two important questions: Precisely how good is Pullela Gopichand’s daughter at age 15? And similarly, how good is Vaishnavi Jakka Reddy, the other teenager whose family has accused the national coach of favouritism and ensuring his daughter’s selection.
Two nascent careers stand to be judged in the sort of court that will not factor in badminton’s smashes and drops, but in the legal one of verbal volleys, should the aggrieved Reddy family go in for litigation. It is learnt that anticipating the storm that could erupt owing to Gayatri’s selection in the u-19 event, the national head coach had written to the BAI president almost two months ago that these insinuations that the 15-year-old was picked owing to her father could adversely affect her morale, while requesting she be withdrawn from the squad to avoid this unpleasant situation.
The president, it is understood, had argued that Gayatri being Gopichand’s daughter did not make for rational grounds to reject her from being considered for selection. With Vaishnavi’s family having withdrawn her from the squad already and the youngster not having reported to the preparatory camp at Bangalore, the first damage has already been done. “BAI will not interfere with selection, and this decision was left to the selectors. Gopichand was not part of the selection committee,” BAI secretary Anup Narang insisted. “Also, it is the coach’s decision whom to field in singles and doubles, which has not been taken yet,” stressed Narang of the championships that begin in Indonesia on October 9.
There is history to this issue as Vaishnavi and Gayatri were once doubles partners. The family alleged that Gopichand had discriminated against Vaishnavi because “she was the only one who could beat Gayatri” and subsequent instances had compelled the family to take her away to Thailand where she currently trains Coaches at the academy contend that Vaishnavi lost a match to Gayatri, and left. The family maintains that at one exposure tour abroad, the coaches and physios refused to tend to Vaishnavi, while a coach insists that it was an academy tour, not an India tour, and after members of the family aggressively ordered around the support staff and insisted that she be picked to play, they backed off not wanting to escalate the fracas.
The current selection conundrum is exasperating because Vaishnavi has not played any domestic selection tournaments since moving to Thailand, while Gayatri has not played in the u-19 category. She played in the simultaneously held u-17 category, and has beaten India’s top junior Akarshi Kashyap thrice separately. It would have been difficult to play in both categories – that would be six matches per day – the academy coach says.
Vaishnavi has a world junior ranking of 12, having travelled extensively and collected ranking points, which is not the case with other India players. “If ranking was the only criterion, we wouldn’t need selectors,” Narang snapped back, adding, “there are many criteria —domestic performances, selection tournaments, the ranking, ability to give a podium finish in the future and head to head records. The selectors are sitting there to consider all this or computers would’ve done the job.”
Gayatri has a u-17 Asian podium, while Vaishnavi has experience of playing more internationals. On the downside, Gayatri had lost to Malvika Bansode who is picked as well, recently in Pune, post selection. Vaishnavi hasn’t played at home in the same duration.
Given this was never about two girls fighting for one spot – there are four singles spots – this controversy has taken a shape of its own. A feud between the two affluent families with talented daughters has morphed into a full-blown controversy, and the last thing BAI would want to do is dismiss genuine potential to the side, to not confront an inevitable situation. As such, Gayatri will be seen as Gopichand’s daughter even 10 or 20 years from now, and her selection to the team was always going to attract cotroversies. The BAI maintains that those are unfair grounds for rejecting her as a team member, and that selectors are convinced of her ability to win big internationally.
The controversy has also highlighted the disdain with which Indian parents look at doubles, given all the jockeying is happening for the singles spots. It would be wise to remember that currently, successful shuttlers like K Srikanth, Sai Praneeth and PV Sindhu did not shy away from playing doubles in their junior years, which eventually added another dimension to their games. Two promising players are going to fend off a hapless controversy heaped on them, in the next few crucial days before the Worlds, even as selectors are denied the final word.