Pullela Gopichand appreciates Russia’s sporting culture

In an exclusive interview with RIR, Indian badminton legend Pullela Gopichand touches on the infrastructure and approach towards sports in Russia and the opportunities for Russian players in the Indian Badminton League.

The national badminton coach of India, Pullela Gopichand, is an avid proponent of sporting culture and believes that sports deserve a far greater importance as a means of fitness and recreation.

To make his point, he cites an anecdote from the Indian National Junior team’s tour of the Russian Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk in the 1990s. “The team was taken for a sightseeing trip. They visited a theatre and were told that it was the biggest in the area with a capacity of 200 people. The Indian team wasn’t the least bit impressed and boasted that we’ve about 20 of these in an even smaller town. It so happened that during the same tour they also visited a massive sports complex. The shrewd liaison officer didn’t miss the opportunity to poke, ‘how many of these do you’ve in your country? We’ve 20 of them in Khabarovsk.’ Clearly they had been trumped.” Gopichand contends that most Indians prefer cinema and television over sports for entertainment.

Pullela Gopichand, winner of the All England Open Badminton Championships in 2001, has been instrumental in propelling India into the top ranks of the sport.

He has mentored the ace Indian shuttler, Saina Nehwal, to India’s first ever Olympic medal in this sport. Post his landmark win in England, Gopichand has focussed his time and efforts on the development of badminton in India.

His badminton academy in Hyderabad has been training a number of promising players such as Parupalli Kashyap, P V Sandhu, and Gurusai Datt

He ascribes this bias to the lack of sports infrastructure in the country, “Let’s say that about 1 percent of the people decide to play, are there adequate arenas available?” When asked about the inclusion of sports in school curriculums in India and Russia, he says, “Let’s enquire how often students can actually utilize these facilities. Twice or so in a month is not the ratio we are hoping for. There has to be an effective inclusion of sports in our lifestyle.”

Speaking about the possibilities of India and Russia cooperating in the field of sports, Gopichand shares a slice of nostalgia, “Till about mid 80’s Indo-Russian test matches used to be organized. I was fortunate to witness one of these matches. I had just started training in badminton and for the first time ever I saw someone jump and smash. The player was Andrei Andropov.”

Andropov was the leading Russian shuttler at that time and he is currently the Chairman of the National Badminton Federation of Russia. “The world badminton scenario has changed a lot. It’s too bad that such test matches aren’t organized anymore,” says Gopichand. Perhaps a revival is on order.

Gopichand notes that a certain level of association already exists between the two countries, “there are quite a few Russian professionals who are working as coaches and support staff with Indian sports persons.”

The 2001 All England Badminton Championships Winner who trains several top Indian players commends the upcoming Russian shuttlers. “The bronze at the last Olympics will surely motivate the players,” he believes. Valeria Sorokina and Nina Vislova beat their Canadian opponents in straight sets to earn Russia’s first ever Olympic medal in this sport. The overall competition was however weakened due to the disqualification of four top ranked pairs.  “This is a feat to be excited about, nonetheless,” Gopichand says.

All England 2001 MS SF 1 7 Peter Gade vs Pullela Gopichand. Source: Vikram Kaushal 

He also comments about the men’s doubles players Vladimir Ivanov and Ivan Sozonov, “They were impressive in the Indonesian Open. I saw some brilliant power smashes.” The duo became the first ever Russians to reach the semi-finals of a BWF Open series. They’ve also claimed silver medal at the Kazan Universiade. “They are building their sport medal-by-medal and that’s the way forward,” the Indian national coach says.

Ivanov and Sozonov are amongst the players to be auctioned for the upcoming Indian Badminton League. “I am sure some teams will like to acquire them,” Gopichand is positive. The franchise league which starts in August this year will open a new channel for the international players to come together.  

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