When the International Paralympics Committee announced that badminton would be part of the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics – the first time the sports discipline will feature in the quadrennial event –there was a sense of euphoria among the para-badminton players in India.
They had been consistently doing well on the international circuit for the past few years and the entry at the Paralympics meant greater support and recognition.
But with just over a year left for the mega event, top Indian para-shuttlers are wondering whether they are stuck between a rock and a hard place thanks to a power struggle between those claiming to be the legitimate custodians of the game.
Till the Badminton World Federation nominated Badminton Association of India as the affiliate body to handle para-badminton in the country just under a year ago, the players directly dealt with the world body and even the Sports Authority of India through the Paralympic Committee of India. They had created a system of their own to handle entries, funding, and even travel plans.
But with BAI entrusted with the responsibility of handling these details, it was clear that the national federation had little expertise in the discipline. They appointed its former joint secretary NC Sudhir – who was also the president of a NGO Para Badminton Association of India and had conducted a few events in the past – as the convener to handle the discipline.
While the top players objected to this arrangement, BAI secretary Ajay Singhania wrote to the players that the national federation does not have the expertise for para-badminton and would only work as a forwarding agency for the entries till such an expertise is developed with the remaining responsibilities to be handled by PCI.
While this looked like a perfect solution on paper, the multi-authority mechanism has ended up creating more confusion. Some of the top players have written to the Sports Ministry on April 20 asking them to intervene and ask the BWF to allow the discipline to be governed by PCI as is the case in other top Asian countries.
Few of the top players, who have now been supported under the Sports Ministry’s Target Olympic Podium Scheme, are alleging that the BAI has outsourced running para-badminton to a Bengaluru-based private NGO which is looking to further its own interest rather than developing the game.
Some of these players, under the banner of Indian Para Badminton Commission, have already written a long mail to BAI president Himanta Biswa Sarma asking him to spare them the chaos created by the multi-authority system. They have requested him to let PCI handle the entries and other formalities at least till next year’s Paralympics.
Scroll.in has seen a copy of both the letters.
Those in the know admit that the power struggle between PBAI and a group of players backing Gaurav Khanna – who according to BAI website in the government observer for the discipline and a coach for most of these players – has been going on for quite some time.
While the Bengaluru group claims that Khanna is trying to instigate the players against coming under BAI fold, those supporting him claim that the new dispensation has done virtually nothing for the cause of players in comparison to him.
Quite a few players Scroll.in spoke to insisted that the real problem was that the people appointed by BAI to oversee para-badminton were looking to impose their authority without contributing to the funding and training needs of the players.
“None of them even came to the nationals conducted by PCI last month while no players signed up for the nationals announced in Bangalore,” said one player on condition of anonymity.
In March when the TOPS list was announced, SL3 category player Manoj Sarkar had asked SAI Director General Neelam Kapur to resolve the issue as the announcement was delayed due to this power struggle and even she had acknowledged the problem.
Even PCI has not been above board in this as there have been allegations and counter allegations over missing entries in the past few months, including for the Asian Para Games last year. But things came to a head last week when BAI’s newly appointed chairman of Para Badminton committee Prabhakar Rao wrote to SAI asking them to cut the name of two escorts listed to travel with the team to Para Badminton tournaments in Uganda and Canada just a few days before the team was scheduled to leave.
While BAI officials have been tight lipped over the reasons behind the communication to SAI, sources said the two individuals were part of Khanna’s team while no member of PBAI was considered for the same.
Four players supported by TOPS immediately hit back by writing to SAI that they would prefer to have Abhijeet Yadav (who was also a BAI employee in the past) and Praveen Raj as analyst-cum-escorts till the 2020 Games.
Here is the copy of the letter
With BAI still unsure about how to go about building expertise and design a mechanism to create a system to promote and develop para-badminton, the players only hope that there is little interference in their training and tournament entries at least till the Paralympics.
The ball in now in BAI and SAI’s court.