Yes, Badminton is a rich man's game and considerable investment needed to produce world beaters

India created history by winning the Thomas Cup for the first time but has a lot of catching up to do, says Ajay Kanwar, a former India player who now runs his own Badminton Academy

Yes, Badminton is a rich man's game and considerable investment needed to produce world beaters

Rohit Bhandiye

While India created history by winning the Thomas Cup for the first time, only the sixth country to lift the Cup, we have a long way to go before we catch up with China, Malayasia, Indonesia and Denmark. A former Indian player who represented the country at the Thomas Cup and who is currently a coach, who runs his own Badminton Academy in New Delhi, Ajay Kanwar speaks to Rohit Bhandiye about the overall badminton scenario in India and its future.

Is badminton a rich man’s game?

Badminton is an expensive sport. A badminton racquet costs about Rs. 8000 – 20000 and it will last about 5-6 months. Even a district level player will need to carry 3 racquets along with him. The string used in the racquet costs about Rs. 600 – 1000. A box of shuttle cocks costs Rs. 1300 per box. A district level player uses 4 such boxes in a week or about 15 boxes in a month.

Shoes costs about Rs. 2000 – 15000 and one needs to have 2 pairs of shoes in a month. Coaching fees range from Rs. 2000 – 25000 depending upon the level of coaching. So, a top-level player needs at least Rs. 50000 per month to keep his badminton dreams alive. For youngsters from poor families, it’s definitely tough.

How many good badminton players do we have? How many are world beaters?

Currently, we have 5 players in top-30 in men’s singles and 2 players in top-30 women’s singles.

Players like Lakshya Sen, Kidambi Srikanth, Prannoy H.S, Sai Praneeth B, PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal are all world-class players who can beat any opponent on a given day. But, in women’s singles we don’t have the bench strength. Apart from Sindhu and Saina, we do not have any top-class woman player who can be considered as truly world-beater.

Our Thomas Cup win was not a fluke. It was a team effort and result of years of hard work. Although we were not the pre-tournament favourites, ours was a balanced side and they were really focused to win. Beating topclass teams like Malaysia, Denmark and Indonesia can never be a fluke.

But we have a long way to go before we can be considered as a badminton powerhouse. Currently, we do not have the eco-system to produce world-class badminton players on a sustained basis.

How is the badminton set up different in India than in Denmark, Malaysia and Indonesia?

Unlike the badminton super-powers of the world like Denmark, Malaysia, Indonesia, the game is not spread at the grass-root level in India.

Is there a reason why most Indian badminton players of world class come from the South?

There are multiple factors. Lack of apathy of the various state associations in the northern part of the country is one. In the South, Gopichand Badminton Academy in Hyderabad and Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy in Bengaluru have been responsible for training and grooming most of the world-class badminton players the country has produced in the last decade or so. But it is not practically possible for all the players in the country to shift their base to these two academies. We need to have more such academies in all the major cities of the country.

In cricket crazy India, how popular is badminton?

Age group tournaments at the national level now witness more than 2000 entries in each of the categories like u-13, u-15, u-17 and u-19. Earlier, around 20 years back, this number was less than 100. So, the game is definitely becoming more popular.

But, unlike cricketers, most of the top badminton players in India earn in lakhs not in crores. In a few cases, it may be crores but compared to India’s top cricketers the earnings are definitely nothing to write home about.

What needs to be done to promote badminton here?

Having just 4-5 academies in the entire country is not enough. There is an urgent requirement of good coaches. At the district level, more tournaments should be conducted. The game also needs to be promoted at the school level. That is what is lacking now.

At the school and college level, we hardly have any national level badminton tournament expect the Khelo India Youth Games, Khelo India University Games and the various age group categories tournaments which happen once in a year. We need to have more such tournaments at this level on a national stage.

How much does it cost to get coaching in the Badminton Academies in Hyderabad and Bengaluru?

Badminton academies across the country charge anywhere between Rs. 2000 and Rs 4000 per month for the beginners. At this stage, the training is for about 1-2 hours per day. At the intermediate stage, the fee goes up to Rs, 8000 per month. Residential academies in places like Hyderabad and Bengaluru charge about Rs. 20000 – 25000 per month.

How do we build Doubles players?

Doubles event has always been our weakest link. We never had the culture of playing doubles. Currently we have only Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty who can be considered as a truly world-class pair. But, apart from them, we do not have any quality pair either in women’s doubles or mixed doubles.

In order to increase our bench strength in doubles, we need to identify at least 20 pairs in each event at the junior level. Catch them young, train and groom them. Give them more international exposure. Set-up more academies only for doubles event. Doubles is a specialized team event. Singles player cannot play doubles.

Tell us about the future of badminton in India.

In the last decade or so, our players have won medals at the Olympics, World Championship, All-England Open. And, now that we have won the Thomas Cup, things are definitely looking good for the game. But we need to keep the momentum going.

Lakshya Sen is just 20 years old and has a very bright future ahead of him. Kidambi Srikanth, Prannoy H. S. and B. Sai Praneeth are senior members of the squad and all of them are 29 years old. We need to have more world-class players at the junior level who can carry the baton forward.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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