The Field Interview

P Gopichand interview: Great infrastructure doesn’t produce great results, great coaches do

One of India’s most successful coaches insists that ‘People first, programmes next and infrastructure last’ is the only way to achieve sporting excellence.

After India’s only individual Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra spoke about the need for expert planners, The Field spoke to coach Pullela Gopichand in the second part of the series of interviews with people who care about Indian sport. Gopichand, one of India’s most successful coaches, spoke about his vision for building a culture for sports and what India needs to do to produce more champions.


If a country has to become a sporting nation, where do we start?

A culture of sport is what is important. Medals are not really the bench mark to decide whether you are a sporting nation. Participation in sport across all age groups and gender should be the criteria for calling ourselves a sporting nation. For me, to see a lot of young kids play sport in the true spirit of sport is what is important. A by-product of it can be the medals that we win, which could add to the pride of the nation. But if you look at sports as a mechanism of communities coming together, health and sportsman spirit, that is the larger issue that sports needs to address. And that to me is the picture for calling us a sporting nation.

It is the sheer number of people participating in sports per day is what is the benchmark.

But success and medals are going to be the ultimate parameters. Do you think this will fetch us more medals?

Not necessarily. For example, if you are a 100m sprinter. We don’t have cases of anybody without a particular gene type winning the race. Long distance has a similar pattern. I am not saying that there cannot be an aberration to that but that is the norm. So if we go by genetics or if we go by environments, we may not be producing a sprinting 100m champion in the next few years. But that doesn’t mean that the whole country should not train for 100m. For me, medals should not be the main objective. If, in the bargain, we provide for excellence it is very good. But for me, each individual competing against himself and trying to do better is what sports is all about.

It is not the referral benchmark but the personal benchmark that is important. Everybody should reach their highest potential and that is possible through sport. Since you asked for an ideal scenario, for me the ideal scenario will be XYZ not competing against somebody but pushing to get to his/her best.

So in a class, only one can be first but all can get 100% marks. So for me, from the national perspective, this is important. With gene therapy, doping, gene mapping etc, I think excellence may not be for everybody. But sports for everybody should be a benchmark for nation building.

If quality of life, happiness and health were the benchmarks we were setting out to achieve and then we were looking at sports excellence it would be great.

This is an ideal social scenario. But sports is also about showcasing soft power and that is why nations spend so much. What do you think is lacking in Indian system?

India is very unique. We need a system that is very India-specific, which is very dynamic and has a method of interaction with various stakeholders. For me, the most important point is that there are many cogs in these wheels which we need to align to each other in the same direction. And we need a body which actually aligns all of them. There are many states, federations, individuals, NGOs etc who are trying to contribute in their own way to do something in sports. But there is a need to give them one single direction.

I think for the first time, thanks to the Prime Minister, there is a thought process that we need something and there is a generic talk as to what is needed. When it comes to building a system, we are still little immature right now but I think the talk is in the right direction. This is the beginning.

So what could be the benchmarks for this success?

Finland, Norway, Denmark have the largest participative ratio in sports. And they are the happiest nations in the world. Whereas UK, USA may have won many medals but the nations are not the best in terms of happiness index or health index.

So I think the scientific and unbiased way of creating a system is to decide the right targets. We need to select a few sports according to their genetics and past records and you have to be very cut throat about it. You have to ensure that you cut whatever dead wood there is and that the best are getting the best facilities. It is a very clear cut approach and in that approach we will cut off various sports, cut off many individuals and go in with a simple plan of getting medals as the single largest goal.

Now if you want to build this kind of a system, what is the way forward?

I don’t know about others. But for me to build a system, I would like them to play what comes naturally to them. If you see the traditional sports India plays, kho-kho, kabaddi, hockey etc etc, the common thread is that it doesn’t need big infrastructure. They just need sticks and balls to play with or bare hands to play with, whether its hockey or mallakhamb.

Our country’s need was these sports. Now whether you want to take other countries sport, build an infrastructure and excel in that sport is the call you will have to take. If you want to build a sports culture this is what is important. Big cities, more people and less infrastructure is a problem. So we need less infrastructure and more people to play sport.

So when you build infrastructure you have to keep these things in mind. It’s a complex issue. I don’t say I know all the answers but there is a need for a discussion, debate to happen.

International performance is what catalyses a sport. And for that you need medals in big events.

We need not be as obsessed with medals. We can have excellence as an obsession. So a top-down and a bottom-up approach are both needed. So you have to nurture players without being unreasonable about it. If there is some talent that is exceptional then we should get the best facilities that are available in the world.

But always clearly focusing on bottom-up approach where we broaden the base. We look at cheaper alternatives, more local, innate opportunities and look at our native sports. Yes, internationally sports has a huge role at building international pride. But we need to take a conscious view on the amount of money we will earmark for this and the amount for that.

I would really look to create a system that bring benefits beyond medals into the social system and that has to be a measured system.

But we only talk about this. In reality, nothing happens. What has gone wrong?

One of the fundamentals is culture of sport. We are long way away [from imbibing that culture]. The best models in the world are coach led, athlete-centric and system driven. Now, we are at most administrator, government, individual athlete-led. We are not anywhere close to this model. We need to get the act together.

For me, when we look at sport and the challenges, I think, always it should be people first, programme next and infrastructure last. Many times we reverse that sequence and feel that lack of infrastructure is the biggest problem. But I think good coaches can be creative and get results even when there is no infrastructure. But great infrastructure without coaches will not lead us anywhere.

The tons of stadiums that have been built across the country for national games, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games are testimony to the fact that great infrastructure doesn’t produce great results. Great coaches produce results.

So how do you get people to take pride in becoming a coach? How do you get a system which ensures that the people who work are complemented? Today, the coaching system is the most un-evolved system in the country. Coaches are recognised on the basis of what there athletes achieve where as a coach working at a grass-root level might do a great job but never get recognised by the system.

Even in schools, a class one teacher hands over the child to the next class but the handing over process in coaching doesn’t happen. So how do you actually make the distinction and make grass-root coaches heroes, reward them, award them, and make them confident to hand over? It needs a lot of thought to understand the issue. But currently, we are not even addressing it.

That we don’t respect coaches is a cultural issue at the moment. Gurus were the most respected people across our history. But of late we have lost it and we have to get that back.

Second thing is the existing power centres in sports look at it as their fiefdom. Now how do you make sports science as the background for running sport and not any other parameter? So we need to objectively breaking down parameters. But I see a lot of change that is happening now.

Despite so many academies mushrooming, why do you feel we don’t have enough expert coaches?

Let’s take the example of badminton. From the numbers of coaches that we have, Sports Authority of India [SAI] employs about 900 coaches. We produce about 18 badminton coaches in a year from National Institute of Sport [NIS]. And if Bangalore has 3000 badminton courts, we will need at least 3000 coaches. So we need to revamp this system.

When you look at a coach, what are you looking for? His knowledge. But if he is not driven, if he doesn’t feel pride in his job why will he try to improve? Why will he try to get better if there is no progression for him? Why will he come into the field if there is no reward or recognition in the first place? So we need to create this entire ecosystem. I think, for instance, there are five lakh trained coaches in UK.

But just training is not everything. Someone who is trained in 1990 and still coaching that way is not a trained coach according to me.

Are we too focused on short term goals?

When you have bureaucracy posted for short period of time. When you have governments with limited mandate, coaches will have limited mandate, this will happen. There is a need for sport and sporting bodies to be lot more permanent. Lot more regulation, lot more permanent. Continuity without regulation and regulation without continuity wont work.

Rio Olympics target was 12 medals, if we want to win medals consistently what are the short term steps that have to be taken and is 2024 is feasible target?

We cannot ignore what is happening, we should look at 2020. In 2020, there is nobody new who is going to come up. 2018 is Asian Games. 2024, relatively better. 2028 and 2032 are a realistic change opportunity. Any change will need at least 10 years time. But for that the implementation of the thought process is important.

What went wrong between 2012 and 2016? Was it because of the change in approach to a more athlete-centric system?

If we look back at our Olympic success in the past, it was individual driven. Be it [Rajyavardhan] Rathore in 2004 or Abhinav [Bindra] in 2008. For some reason it became the benchmark. 2010, CWG ensured that it was system driven. So 2012 was a spill over. TOPs scheme was also made on the Abhinav, Rathore model.

Everyone who looks at sport has looked at it from a shooting [sport] perspective or successful athletes perspective. So 6-10 athletes became stars and they became the talking and listening points. So they spoke about their success and it became an individual system. If you don’t give in (to their demands), someone else will. So the government also said that we will do that. And the whole thing got a little messed up.

An athlete-led, athlete-centric model is not a great model for success. But we actually had previous success so we thought this will give us more success. We need to realise that what got us here, won’t get us there. It has its value, individual athletes should have their say. But not everybody can decide for themselves. Even if they have to, regulations have to be there, systems have to be there.

I am not saying that a system that has sub-standard people will produce results. The one criticism of system driven approach is it can lead to sub-standard people getting more power and that has to be avoided.

From your playing days to today... has anything changed?

The top players are taken care of very well. 100% change. Government and SAI, for whatever we might say, do a phenomenal job. I cannot say that about the system. The bottom is lot more unstructured. I really think we need a lot more thought going into it.

We are too focused on the top. Today, I can say it but I couldn’t have spoken this two to three years back. So when I talk today, I talk today because I have the results to back things up. So today when I speak of sports culture I also speak about that because I believe we have achieved the milestones as far as excellence is concerned and I am at least ready to talk about the sports culture. Where as if I were to talk about this 15 years ago, people would say kya baat kar raha hai [what are you saying]. First show us that you can win. Since you can’t win, you are talking about sports culture. I have done that and so now, I am talking.

Part I: Abhinav Bindra on the need to hire experts rather than making one committee after another
Part III: Viren Rasquinha on the challenges of getting funding for Indian athletes
Part IV: Director General of Sports Authority of India Injeti Srinivas on why we have a system that just doesn’t work

Do you prefer your favourite sports stories delivered straight to your inbox every weekday? We have got you covered. Subscribe to The Field’s newsletter.

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Top picks, best deals and all that you need to know for the Amazon Great Indian Festival

We’ve done the hard work so you can get right to what you want amongst the 40,000+ offers across 4 days.

The Great Indian Festival (21st-24th September) by Amazon is back and it’s more tempting than ever. This edition will cater to everyone, with offers on a range of products from electronics, home appliances, apparel for men and women, personal care, toys, pet products, gourmet foods, gardening accessories and more. With such overwhelming choice of products and a dozen types of offers, it’s not the easiest to find the best deals in time to buy before your find gets sold out. You need a strategy to make sure you avail the best deals. Here’s your guide on how to make the most out of the Great Indian Festival:

Make use of the Amazon trio – Amazon Prime, Amazon Pay and Amazon app

Though the festival officially starts on 21st, Amazon Prime members will have early access starting at 12 noon on 20th September itself, enabling them to grab the best deals first. Sign up for an Amazon Prime account to not miss out on exclusive deals and products. Throughout the festival, Prime members will 30-minute early access to top deals before non-Prime members. At Rs 499/- a year, the Prime membership also brings unlimited Amazon Prime video streaming and quick delivery benefits.

Load your Amazon pay wallet; there’s assured 10% cashback (up to Rs 500). Amazon will also offer incremental cashbacks over and above bank cashbacks on select brands as a part of its Amazon Pay Offers. Shopping from the app would bring to you a whole world of benefits not available to non-app shoppers. App-only deals include flat Rs 1,250 off on hotels on shopping for more than Rs 500, and flat Rs 1,000 off on flights on a roundtrip booking of Rs 5,000 booking from Yatra. Ten lucky shoppers can also win one year of free travel worth Rs 1.5 lakhs.

Plan your shopping

The Great Indian Sale has a wide range of products, offers, flash sales and lightning deals. To make sure you don’t miss out on the best deals, or lose your mind, plan first. Make a list of things you really need or have been putting off buying. If you plan to buy electronics or appliances, do your research on the specs and shortlist the models or features you prefer. Even better, add them to your wishlist so you’re better able to track your preferred products.

Track the deals

There will be lightning deals and golden hour deals throughout the festival period. Keep track to avail the best of them. Golden-hour deals will be active on the Amazon app from 9.00pm-12.00am, while Prime users will have access to exclusive lightning deals. For example, Prime-only flash sales for Redmi 4 will start at 2.00pm and Redmi 4A at 6.00pm on 20th, while Nokia 6 will be available at Rs 1,000 off. There will be BOGO Offers (Buy One Get One free) and Bundle Offers (helping customers convert their TVs to Smart TVs at a fraction of the cost by using Fire TV Stick). Expect exclusive product launches from brands like Xiaomi (Mi Band 2 HRX 32 GB), HP (HP Sprocket Printer) and other launches from Samsung and Apple. The Half-Price Electronics Store (minimum 50% off) and stores offering minimum Rs 15,000 off will allow deal seekers to discover the top discounts.

Big discounts and top picks

The Great Indian Festival is especially a bonanza for those looking to buy electronics and home appliances. Consumers can enjoy a minimum of 25% off on washing machines, 20% off on refrigerators and 20% off on microwaves, besides deals on other appliances. Expect up to 40% off on TVs, along with No-Cost EMI and up to Rs 20,000 off on exchange.

Home Appliances

Our top picks for washing machines are Haier 5.8 Kg Fully Automatic Top Loading at 32% off, and Bosch Fully Automatic Front Loading 6 Kg and 7 Kg, both available at 27% discount. Morphy Richards 20 L Microwave Oven will be available at a discount of 38%.

Our favorite pick on refrigerators is the large-sized Samsung 545 L at 26% off so you can save Rs 22,710.

There are big savings to be made on UV water purifiers as well (up to 35% off), while several 5-star ACs from big brands will be available at greater than 30% discount. Our top pick is the Carrier 1.5 Ton 5-star split AC at 32% off.

Also those looking to upgrade their TV to a smart one can get Rs. 20,000 off by exchanging it for the Sony Bravia 108cm Android TV.

Personal Electronics

There’s good news for Apple fans. The Apple MacBook Air 13.3-inch Laptop 2017 will be available at Rs 55,990, while the iPad will be available at 20% off. Laptops from Lenovo, Dell and HP will be available in the discount range of 20% to 26%. Top deals are Lenovo Tab3 and Yoga Tab at 41% to 38% off. Apple fans wishing to upgrade to the latest in wearable technology can enjoy Rs 8,000 off on the Apple Watch series 2 smartwatch. For those of you just looking for a high quality fitness tracker, the Fitbit Charge has Rs. 4500 off on 22nd September.

If you’re looking for mobile phones, our top deal pick is the LG V20 at Rs 24,999, more than Rs 5000 off from its pre-sale price.

Power banks always come in handy. Check out the Lenovo 13000 mAh power bank at 30% off.

Home printers are a good investment for frequent flyers and those with kids at home. The discounted prices of home printers at the festival means you will never worry about boarding passes and ID documents again. The HP Deskjet basic printer will be available for Rs 1,579 at 40% off and multi-function (printer/ scanner/ Wi-Fi enabled) printers from HP Deskjet and Canon will also available at 33% off.

The sale is a great time to buy Amazon’s native products. Kindle E-readers and Fire TV Stick will be on sale with offers worth Rs 5,000 and Rs 1,000 respectively.

The Amazon Fire Stick
The Amazon Fire Stick

For those of you who have a bottomless collection of movies, music and photos, there is up to 60% off on hard drives and other storage devices. Our top picks are Rs 15,000 and Rs 12,000 off on Seagate Slim 5TB and 4TB hard drives respectively, available from 8.00am to 4.00pm on 21st September.

The sale will see great discounts of up to 60% off on headphones and speakers from the top brands. The 40% off on Bose QC 25 Headphones is our favourite. Top deals are on Logitech speakers with Logitech Z506 Surround Sound 5.1 multimedia Speakers at 60% off and the super compact JBL Go Portable Speaker at 56% off!

Other noteworthy deals

Cameras (up to 55% off) and camera accessories such as tripods, flash lights etc. are available at a good discount. Home surveillance cameras too will be cheaper. These include bullet cameras, dome cameras, simulated cameras, spy cameras and trail and game cameras.

For home medical supplies and equipment, keep an eye on the grooming and personal care section. Weighing scales, blood pressure monitors, glucometers, body fat monitors etc. will be available at a cheaper price.

The sale is also a good time to invest in home and kitchen supplies. Mixer-grinders and juicers could see lightning deals. Don’t ignore essentials like floor mops with wheels, rotating mop replacements, utensils, crockery etc. Tupperware sets, for example, will be more affordable. There are attractive discounts on bags, especially laptop bags, backpacks, diaper bags and luggage carriers.

Interesting finds

While Amazon is extremely convenient for need-based shopping and daily essentials, it is also full of hidden treasures. During the festival, you can find deals on telescopes, polaroid cameras, smoothie makers, gym equipment, gaming consoles and more. So you’ll be able to allow yourself some indulgences!

Small shopping

If you have children, the festival is good time to stock up on gifts for Diwali, Christmas, return gifts etc. On offer are gaming gadgets such as Xbox, dough sets, Touching Tom Cat, Barbies, classic board games such as Life and more. There are also some products that you don’t really need, but kind of do too, such as smartphone and tablet holders, magnetic car mounts for smartphones and mobile charging station wall stands. If you’re looking for enhanced functionality in daily life, do take a look at the Amazon Basics page. On it you’ll find USB cables, kitchen shears, HDMI cables, notebooks, travel cases and other useful things you don’t realise you need.

Check-out process and payment options

Amazon is also offering an entire ecosystem to make shopping more convenient and hassle-free. For the festival duration, Amazon is offering No-Cost EMIs (zero interest EMIs) on consumer durables, appliances and smartphones, plus exchange schemes and easy installation services in 65 cities. HDFC card holders can avail additional 10% cashback on HDFC credit and debit cards. Customers will also get to “Buy Now and Pay in 2018” with HDFC Credit Cards, as the bank offers a 3 Month EMI Holiday during the days of the sale. Use Amazon Pay balance for fast and easy checkouts, quicker refunds and a secured shopping experience.

Sales are fun and with The Great Indian Festival offering big deals on big brands, it definitely calls for at least window shopping. There’s so much more than the above categories, like minimum 50% off on American Tourister luggage! To start the treasure hunt, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of and not by the Scroll editorial team.