In an exclusive interview with the Olympic Channel, the former player-turned-coach explains why the future of Indian badminton is looking bright.
Since the turn of the decade, Indian badminton has taken a turn for the better, giving the nation two Olympic medals as well as multiple medals at the World Championships, including a gold in 2019.
“Well, I think the way badminton has evolved, the number of players who have taken up this sport in the last few years has been tremendous and I think I can only see things getting better and better. I do believe that Indian badminton has a lot more to offer and many more champion to come in the future,” said Gopichand in an exclusive interview with the Olympic Channel.
The esteemed coach though believes that the past decade hasn’t been just a flash in the pan for Indian’s shuttlers, and maintains that the future is definitely better than the past for Indian badminton.
“When I started playing the sport in 1985, I think what we are seeing today at the world level for Indian badminton was not something which I thought or dreamt would ever happen. It’s been quite a remarkable journey for us. I think the badminton players have really put in a lot of work, and we have got successive governments and associations’ support, which has helped nurture the sport. Today, we are at a place where thousands of kids across the country are playing and parents who see badminton as a viable career option,” observed Gopichand.
A watershed moment in Indian badminton came at the London 2012 Games, where Saina Nehwal became the first Indian to win an Olympic medal for the sport.
A couple of years later, India’s love for badminton was augmented further when Parupalli Kashyap won gold at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, while Sindhu claimed bronze in the women’s singles category in the same competition.
Sindhu continued her meteoric rise in badminton over the past few years, winning a silver medal at the Rio 2016 Games and more recently, finding success at the World Badminton Championships.
“I think definitely the sport has seen a drastic rise every time there has been a good performance at the highest level, whether it’s the Olympics or the World Championships. I think India is definitely a sport-loving nation which follows its icons, and Saina’s medal in 2012 was phenomenal, Sindhu’s medal in 2016 and World Championship in 2019 have also led to these spikes in the growth of badminton,” opined Gopichand.
Apart from Sindhu and Nehwal, India have a few promising youngsters in Lakshya Sen and the men’s doubles pair of Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, who won the Thailand Open in 2019. With such a talented pool of players at their disposal, Gopichand is optimistic about India’s chances of winning medals for badminton at the 2020 Tokyo Games.
“The last three Olympic Games have been good for us. I think we got to our first quarterfinal in Beijing (2008) and then in London (2012), we had a bronze, and at the Rio Games (2016), we secured a silver. Hopefully, we close the circle this time and win a gold at the 2020 Tokyo Games. I do believe that our doubles team and the men’s singles players have the chance, and if things go well, god willing, in August next year, hopefully we have another medal for badminton,” said the 46-year-old.
While there is plenty to look forward to in the years to come for Indian badminton, Gopichand's outlook is one of cautious optimism, as he recognises that there are several areas where improvements can be made.
“I think there is a need to develop a good system, which has players identified, nurtured and then taken to the highest level, and also those who don’t make it should have another pathway to come back and contribute to the sport. An entire ecosystem is needed.
“Today we have huge numbers participating in sports at various levels and we have great infrastructure coming up as well in various corners of the country. All we need to do is put it into a system so that we are able to identify and nurture talent In future,” said Gopichand.
Apart from improving things on an organisational front, Gopichand feels that Indian badminton could benefit from investing in good quality coaches, who are able to nurture and train the next generation of badminton players.
“I think the need for more coaches, the need for hand holding the juniors properly under a set system and a group of good coaches is important because that’s what makes the transformation from being a promising junior to a world-class athlete at the highest level.
“ When I was younger, I travelled to every tournament with Sindhu and Saina because that made it easier for them to progress to the next level. I think that is what is lacking at the moment with juniors and I wish to spend more time with the juniors,” concluded Gopichand.