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P Gopichand on the return of badminton and effect of the pandemic on players

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P Gopichand
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Pullela Gopichand needs no introduction. He is the Dronacharya of badminton, one who has moulded several champions in the country. His career highlight as a player remains winning the All England Championships. P Gopichand ‘s career was cut short due to nagging injuries. Post-retirement he started his academy with a strong desire to provide players all the facilities and support needed to be a champion, something he did not have at the time he played. True to his efforts, he has produced two Olympic medalists and world number ones, among many other achievements.

In an exclusive interview with the SPORTSTAR, the chief coach spoke on various topics in this Olympic year.

Looking back on the Pandemic and lockdown, P Gopichand said

“I think more or less it has been a challenging time for all sports. At some level, 2020 was a very important year for sport because of the Olympics [which were postponed by a year]. For certain, momentum for the teams has been lost. But considering the fact that the whole world has been affected in the same way, I think it is okay.”

Impact of the pandemic on sports in general and badminton

“The long-term impact will be known only after a few years. We didn’t have the national championships in 2020 after many, many years. We haven’t had big tournaments. The kids especially would have lost a lot. For some of them, it would have been the last year in their age groups.”

Challenges faced in these trying times

“For the younger players, it has been a real challenge. They had serious doubts about when the sport will come back, which resulted in lower numbers at the summer camps. In fact, no new kids are joining the summer camps this year. This has been a new kind of vacuum. To a certain extent, we lost some tournaments, including the regular ones like the PBL (Premier Badminton League) and the world events. Professional players have lost, and so has the younger lot.”

Change in attitude of players since the resumption of training

“There are people who have come out of the pandemic mentally and physically stronger. There are many who are mentally tired and fatigued, without a goal, frustrated and directionless. We have to see who made good use of the lockdown. This amount of time in a career is definitely a luxury to have.”

Asian leg Tournament review

“As far as the Thailand Open is concerned, the performance needs to go up in the coming tournament. Unfortunately, Sai (Praneeth) and Srikanth had to go through a rough patch. The results were not encouraging. But this particular Indian team had to be in quarantine and was declared “high risk.” That meant the players didn’t have enough chance to train in the gym and on the courts. There are a couple of issues. But I am happy with the way doubles players Satwik (Satwiksairaj Rankireddy), Chirag (Shetty) and Ashwini (Ponnappa) have played. It is but natural that the players are feeling rusty after such a long break. Hopefully, in the coming events, we will see better performances.”

Also Read: BAI announces resumption of domestic tournament calendar from April 2021

Lessons learnt from the Pandemic

“It has definitely taught a lot of lessons, the fundamental being not to take things for granted. Nobody would have expected in March 2020 that they would have to experience the year pan out in such a way. To cherish every moment, look at the present is what I expect all of us to do whenever we have an opportunity.”

Views on Olympic preparations

“A lot more resources are available for the athletes’ thanks to the Sports Authority of India, Badminton Association of India (BAI), nongovernmental organisations, et cetera. Sponsors are available now. It is fairly good for the players. I wish there is some sort of discipline to the structure of the sport at the moment. We struggle as it has become athlete-driven or -centric for the top players. For the younger players, there is hardly any structure. We have to have the right one in place.

As a sport, we have been phenomenal. We have had some great successes. To build on this, to ensure a continuous stream of players comes through, it is important to develop a structure for the sport. I do believe the BAI, SAI and the government have ensured that we have a system in place where the players get the right opportunities, the coaches get the right freedom, and performance is monitored and becomes a big parameter.”

Optimism on producing more champions

“Thankfully, my role has changed over the last year and a half. We have foreign coaches taking care of the players, like Park (South Korea’s Park Tae-Sang) handling Sindhu and women’s singles. I have been spending a lot more time with the doubles teams in the last few months, and we have been working harder overall, taking care of the programme. My earlier role was more travelling with the players, and that has changed a bit in the recent past.”

P Gopichand ‘s Biggest dream as a coach

“From when I started as a player to now as a coach, badminton has seen a huge rise and change. With the number of players going forward, it is very important to devise a system which ensures the players know their responsibilities, the coaches and administrators their role. It is imperative that each one does his or her role in a systematic manner to ensure there is a continuous flow of players coming through. From that perspective, as a coach, this is what is important for me: We can produce top players as we have shown, and with that possibility and huge talent available, it is important we streamline the system in such a way that there is long-term sustainability.”‘

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Reader | Badminton Fanatic and former player

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