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Thursday, July 09, 2020

Anything longer than this will make it tough for players to return to full form: Pullela Gopichand

The champion player is not only worried about those he coaches but also small-scale participants in sports who have made the most losses this lockdown

Written by Natasha Singh | Updated: June 22, 2020 12:06:56 pm
Pullela Gopichand feels that another month’s wait will put players’ patience to test. (Express Photo by Tashi Tobgyal)

For the seasoned player and consistent coach that he has been, the lockdown and accompanying lull in training sessions has gotten Pullela Gopichand worried about his players. Although he has been coaching players online, the sudden stop in tournaments has led Gopichand to realise a simple truth: he has never been away from the badminton court for this long.

In a chat with Indian Express, the grand old man of contemporary badminton speaks of the after-effects such a pause can have on India’s players.

“I have never been away from badminton for this long in the actual sense. I do miss it, definitely. Having said that, we have been doing online fitness sessions and that has been able to fill the void,” the Chief National Coach for the Indian Badminton team said.

“For me it’s been okay. I have actually got free time to read, to spend on fitness. I have been conducting online coaching sessions. We have held coaching development workshops and done a lot of work on physical literacy, so I have been keeping myself busy.”

Gopichand, is the only Indian shuttler to have won the world’s oldest badminton tournament, other than Prakash Padukone. That tournament — the All England Championships — turned out to be the last one this year to have been played before the Badminton World Federation suspended all competitions to contain the spread of coronavirus disease.

Now that the Sports Authority of India (SAI) has announced that training in camps can resume, there is uncertainty yet as the opening of camps is subject to state government regulations. While badminton has a chance of returning with no audience, the Telangana government has not yet given permission to open the courts.

Which puts Gopichand in a unique position. “As of now, it’s not too bad but if this continues for another month and a half, it will simply start testing the patience of the players,” said the 46-year old, who runs the Gopichand Badminton Academy.

“The initial month was full of resting, and most were involved trying to do things they have not done before. In the next two months, they started working and doing online training,” he added.

There are two sides to the challenges that lie ahead for sportspersons, feels Gopichand. “One is the physical aspect and the other, mental fitness. The athletes have been working out during the lockdown and I believe most of them are reasonably fit. I expect them to return to full form in four to six weeks and I don’t think it should be a problem for them physically,” he said.

“Mentally, however, each player is different. Some players might take a little more time than others. But since the Olympic qualification and big events of the year are over, I think it’s okay to come back a bit slowly. There is no immediate urgency of any sort, with no big tournaments coming up as such,” he said.

The BWF unveiled a revised calendar to salvage the disruption-hit season with the Olympic-qualifying India Open badminton tournament scheduled to be held in December. That will be preceded by the Hyderabad Open in August and the Syed Modi International in November.

READ | Cancelled Badminton Olympic qualification tournaments rescheduled for first 17 weeks of 2021

Asked if he sees the badminton calendar getting further edited, he said, “If in a particular country or say a particular tournament there are players getting affected, then they might just push things back by a few more months. As of now, travel restrictions, quarantine regulations and visas will make this decision for us. Any of these factors can alter the calendar.”

With shops shut and curbs on movement, many small scale sports supply owners as well as independent coaches have been hit hard with no income in the last three months. “When we look at the unorganised sector, not big malls and shops but small scale ones, there are people who are directly hit,” he added.

Usually the months of March, April and May are lucrative ones for coaches and shop owners — the reason is students are usually on school holidays then. “Professional coaches are still okay since their jobs are secure but the ones who are really affected are those on the lower ground. Delhi has the Siri Fort Stadium and Thyagraj Stadium where one may be a coach working independently, not appointed by the government. These are the people affected due to lack of sporting activities,” he said.

In his bid to help raise funds for them, Gopichand, along with Arjuna-winning athletes Ashwini Nachappa and Malathi Holla, will participate in a ‘Run to the Moon’ initiative. The idea behind the run is for participants to collectively cover 3,84,400 kilometres, the distance between the earth and the moon. “It is a small step to ensure some of them get relief,” Gopichand added.

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