Badminton

Big money, fewer matches for stars: Will the revamp of badminton Nationals be fruitful?

The Badminton Association of India would be conveying to the majority of players that few among them are more equal than others.

The Badminton Association of India announced on Monday that it will be raising the total prize purse for the senior national championship to almost Rs 1 crore to make it lucrative enough for the top players to participate.

The proposed amount is higher than the mandatory $1,20,000 (Rs 77 lakh) prize purse for the Badminton World Federation’s Grand Prix Gold events. Hence, in purely financial terms, it is a very attractive proposition for Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu, K Srikanth, B Sai Praneeth and others.

The Field has learnt that almost all top players have confirmed their participation for the upcoming national championships to be held in Nagpur in November. However, the format of the tournament will be changed to ensure that the top stars don’t need to play more than three days.

The tournament is normally played over five days with the eventual champion expected to win at least six matches during that period.

“We are working on the new format,” said a source involved in the development. “Maybe the top players will get direct entry into the quarters or pre-quarters. The top players don’t really look forward to the Nationals like in the past and we need to do something to keep them interested.”

No motivation to play

There is no doubt that the top players are not very keen to play the Nationals simply because the performance in the championship hardly affects the selection process for most Indian teams. The entries to international tournaments are directly linked to players’ world ranking points.

“After you have won the national title once, what is the point of trying to just win it again and again when you can concentrate on bigger goals,” was how one top player put it a few years ago in an informal discussion.

Saina Nehwal was the first to start this trend and hasn’t played the Nationals since winning her second crown in 2007. Many others have taken that route since then. This has meant that there are not many takers for hosting the Senior Nationals as the organisers have to foot the lodging and boarding bill of the players and find it difficult to raise funds for the same in the absence of top players.

In the last few years, BAI office bearers have been deliberating on how to bring back the glory of national championships but with little success. There were plans to make it mandatory for all players to play the India Super Series and Grand Prix Gold and the Nationals. A circular was also issued to this effect only to be withdrawn soon after as the players hardly bothered to oblige.

The most famous snub to this policy came from Nehwal when she turned up to play the Syed Modi International in Lucknow in 2012 under pressure from the then President Dr Akhilesh Das Gupta but conceded her first-round encounter to Russia’s Ksenia Polikarpova at match point, citing a knee injury and returned to Hyderabad.

Current president Himanta Biswa Sarma doesn’t want to go down the route of forcing the players and had a chat with them to understand their reservations over playing the Nationals. While points like better courts, lesser travel time are valid, giving them a direct entry to the business end of the tournament isn’t really the right way forward.

The way forward

Normally, entry into to any tournament of stature is restricted according to pre-defined criteria but everyone participating has to compete from the first round unless they are given a bye on the basis of number of competitors or withdrawal of an opponent.

This could actually lead to a lot of problems because deciding uniform criteria for such direct entries would be difficult across the five events. In simple words, the association will be conveying to the majority of players that few among them are more equal than others.

Instead, the BAI could look at the system followed by the All India Chess Federation in which they hold a qualifying tournament (National B) from which a certain number of players join the top-rated players and the title holder for the main championship.

Some BAI officials feel that having raised the cash prize and accepted the players’ demand like holding the Nationals in better venues and scheduling them at a better time, it should be mandatory for all of them to participate in the Nationals and selection into the core group. Thereby, government funding should be linked to the performance at the championship.

It is the same in top badminton playing nations like China, Malaysia and Indonesia, where the national camp players have to play the domestic tournaments, while those outside the framework have to spend their own money to compete in international meets as professional players.

The likes of five-time world champion Lin Dan also featured in the Chinese National Games a week after the World Championships. However, the BAI isn’t willing to go down that route for now and would try to make things comfortable and lucrative enough for the players to participate in the Nationals.

The shuttle is in the players’ court now.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

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Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.