Varied concerns as Tokyo Olympics nears
The life-threatening Coronavirus or COVID-19 as it is now called has truly taken the world by storm. Scare has driven through everywhere and already over 50 countries are listed with traces of this disease and there is no saying where more the tentacles of this deadly disease would reach. Unsettled is the word to describe the situation in the world and so it should be in the domain of sports.
Like all fields in life, sports too is a line where planning and preparation mark the road to any major event and with the Tokyo Games just a few months away, athletes the world over must be at the zenith of the preparation level. Aspirations and dreams must just be beginning to soar for all those who believe they have in them to exhibit their deeds and gain sporting greatness. Uncertainties have crept in all of a sudden and only time will tell where everything will lead to.
Be that as it may, from an Indian perspective this is another big crisis amidst the crisis of justifying its place in the Olympics. Not that the country is a force to reckon with just as say China or Japan in the Asian region although one must say there was a time when an Olympics for India meant an exhibition of India's dominance in hockey. For long that used to be the source of joy for an Indian fan.
But that is past. Today thanks to P.V. Sindhu and Saina Nehwal and the host of young talents surrounding them, badminton is being looked to with a new zeal and not without reason. Saina brought the country its first medal, a bronze in the London Olympics in 2012 and four years later Sindhu improved that to a Silver. Logically then the lookout is for the highest honour in this king of all Games this time. But that is where the catch lies or to put it more plainly, the concern is all about.
If it was Prakash Padukone who made every Indian sit up and watch with awe the abilities of an Indian in a sport like badminton with his exploits, then credit has to go to Pullela Gopichand for transforming badminton to a sport that has risen to Olympic heights. Now, Padukone too has contributed immensely to bolster badminton through his Academy in Bangalore but where Gopichand has been different is that he could prove that an Indian can make a mark in the Olympics. Sindhu and Saina have been his prized products of change.
In his playing career Gopichand may not have been able to accomplish everything he had dreamt for certainly his efforts could not reach the Olympics portals. But the fire in his belly did not subside and his coaching skills took over and what better recognition than the IOC's lifetime achievement award can there be for this genial Hyderabadi for all that he has done to give badminton a new a definitive direction in the country.
Now Gopichand himself is worried about his principal talents, Sindhu and Saina for the heat they are facing with the Olympics closing in. Sindhu's indifferent form ever since her epoch making World championship win and Saina's eternal struggles are now making the rounds more than their deeds. The worry is not just that but whether the two former number ones in world badminton Saina and men's hope Kidambi Srikanth would even qualify.
True there are enough tournaments still in the days ahead leading to the Olympics, unless Coronavirus snuffs them out, to make up. All that each needs is to win a title. But the fact is none of the two has done anything notable lately. These are the players who had raised the bar and triggered unprecedented expectations. As the Chief Coach puts it, the top players should also know how to deal with such expectations. Indeed, dealing with expectations is in itself a big challenge.
Maybe things can still be shored up. There is news that an Indonesian legend Agus Dwi Santoso who has coached many World and Olympic medallists would soon be in India to take stock of the situation. Indeed, if dealing with the skills is the issue then here is the man for that.
Remember how the South Korean Kim Ji Hyun had helped Sindhu rise to World heights before she quit on personal grounds. The fall for Sindhu after that was unmistakable. A similar turn around could be entertained but what cannot be missed is the need for a more holistic approach in bringing up champions. This is where a structured programme of training, that takes care of all aspects from physical, technical and mental can make the difference.
A sport like squash, not comparable to badminton in terms of popularity, in India today is flourishing only because of this benefit.
Once a sport that hardly earned mention in the country, squash today is a medal-winning sport for India. The key was the establishment of the Indian Squash Academy in Chennai and its country-wide influence, all thanks to N. Ramachandran, the man who visualised this and made it a reality two decades ago.
The former IOA President who also was the President of the World Squash Federation for two terms, Ramachandran believed that providing a facility was not enough but bolstering it with experts who can lay a structured regimen was the key.
With gold medal success already in Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and the South Asian Games not to mention several other individual accomplishments, squash has come to a level where now an Indian rising to become a world squash champion is not an unrealistic dream anymore. Squash is not an Olympic sport yet but it is worthwhile to hope that Gopichand and his team will ensure that Indian badminton too similarly moves ahead to a zone of widespread success.