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The shuttle floats in Gopi sir's court
He runs a private academy, doubles up as a national selector and coach. Is there a way out?
The intriguing debate on whether it is ethical for Pullela Gopichand to double up as the chief coach of the Indian badminton team, selector and the owner of a private academy has so far offered very few solutions. The controversy flared up when budding doubles shuttler Prajakta Sawant moved the Bombay High Court accusing the chief coach of harassment. Prajakta alleged that Gopichand is not allowing her to participate in the national camp.
Dealing with the case and also considering the statement of popular doubles player Jwala Gutta, who accused Gopichand of giving preferential treatment while selecting the Indian team, the court observed, "Ethically, coach who also heads the selection panel should not run a private academy. He may be a good coach. We are not saying otherwise. But in the interest of justice and fairness, a national coach, also part of the selection panel, should not run a private camp. "
Supporting Prajakta, Jwala said that she has been questioning the dual role of Gopichand for the last few years. Welcoming the court's decision she said: "I have been asking the same question for the last few years. I am happy that the court acknowledged the same. The ruling is a good thing and a national coach who also runs a private academy will obviously give preference to his players. We also have a few examples. Ethically, it is not right for a chief national coach to have his own private academy. If the chief coach heads the selection panel, it is bad for the system. "
Interestingly, very few know that Jwala's sudden decision to take an indefinite break from badminton was one of the main reasons for this controversy. When Jwala took the break, her women's doubles partner Ashwini Ponnappa was given the choice to pick her partner.
Badminton Association of India officials and Gopichand reasoned that Ashwini was given the choice since she was a proven performer, who had won a Commonwealth Games gold and also a bronze at the World Championships. Ashwini preferred Pradnya Gadre, who was till then Prajakta's partner.
Supporting Gopichand, Akhilesh Das Gupta, BAI president points out that they cannot pick partners for the players. "We cannot choose partners for the players. If someone doesn't want to play with others we cannot force them. Prajakta wanted to play with Ashwini but we can't help her, " says Gupta.
It is true that a selector who is also running a private academy is likely to favour his own players but Gupta says that the problem of bias will not arise because there are nine other selectors apart from Gopichand. "Badminton is an individual sport and we can't stop a player who keeps performing. Moreover, as accused by the players, Gopichand is not the chief of the selection panel. I am the chief of that committee and there are nine other members, so where is the question of bias, " Gupta says, defending the national coach.
What Gupta does not say is that a coach can influence the opinion of others as in India very few badminton selectors take the responsibility of studying the progress of players. Many don't even watch the domestic tournaments.
Coach Goverdhan Reddy, who trained Saina Nehwal and Parupalli Kashyap during their early days and even helped players like Jwala Gutta and Chetan Anand, accuses Gopichand of bias. Giving the example of a couple of players, Goverdhan says: "Vinay Kumar is ranked No. 5 but he could not find a place in the core Indian team. Same is the case with Shreyas Jaiswal, who dethroned national champion Sourabh Varma at the recently concluded nationals. We have examples of Gopi showing favouritism. That is the reason why a chief coach should not be allowed to run a private academy. "
However, if the administrators take the decision of not allowing anyone who runs a private academy to be appointed as the chief coach, then India will have to go in for a foreign coach. The reason being most of the eligible Indians are running a private academy.
That could be the reason why the legendary Prakash Padukone said that even though ethically it would seem incorrect for a national coach to run a private academy, the realty is different in India. According to Padukone all former national coaches have been attached to either private academies or a SAI centre. Even in his case, when he was the executive president of BAI his academy trained national players.
The former All England champion feels that if Gopichand is asked to step down, Indian badminton is likely to suffer as he had shown good results in the past five years. The solution lies in having a strong and pro-active selection committee which rules out the issue like the present one.
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