Why does India lag behind in international sport events? Why are different sports in the country in a state of disarray ? Today, we are going to tell you something very significant — sufficient to open the eyes of the general public to the workings of the sports federations which are supposed to be dedicated to the development of sports in the country. A short while ago, the 12th World University Badminton Championship took place in South Korea. The selection of the team was scheduled for 24 and 25 October. For the selection of the team, the trials were held at the sports complex of the Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi. When the team was announced, it came to light that players who had performed brilliantly in the earlier seasons of inter-University and the national competitions had not been included in the team for the Championship to be held in Korea. When this news reached Chauthi Duniya, we took up the issue and did not rest till the time we got the names of those players who deserved a place in the playing team were on the ‘selected list’.
Let us take a closer look at the selection process of the players for the 12th World University Badminton Championship. This selection process had all the ingredients of suspense, drama, politics, partiality and many other things. Such goings-on will enable all of us to understand the reason why brilliant players who are capable of winning medals and bringing glory to the nation don’t go further and often do not get the chance to play for the country.
The Association of Indian Universities (AIU) organised the selection trials of the 12th World University Badminton Championship at the sports complex of the Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi on 24 and 25 October. Various universities all over the country were informed through a letter from the AIU to take part in the trials. Before this, only those players used to be invited for the trials of the championship who had secured a quarter final berth in the national University championship. But this time, the rules were changed and the trials were open for all. A student studying in any University in India could take part in the selection trials, but it was mandatory for the student to have a valid identity card issued by the University. So, players in huge numbers reached the trials venue. During the selection, the players were divided into two groups. The top ranked players would be contesting with another top ranked player in one group while a lower ranked player would be contesting against another lower ranked player in the other group. The top ranked players opposed this grouping and said that if selections were made on this basis, then it would result in a sub standard team being selected for the championship.
More than the skill of the player, his political reach, family background and his/her association with a big sports organisation becomes much more important for becoming eligible for selection. When extensive investigations were made, it was discovered that due to pressure from a Central Minister, making changes in the team was not possible. But as the time for the departure to Korea drew closer, the unrest and discontent among players became more acute and looking at the increasing pressure from the media on this issue, the Minister of State (MoS) in the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Shashi Tharoor intervened and an announcement was made that fresh trials would be organised on 4 November.
For example, if a second rank player plays loses a game in the first round against the first rank player, then he is out of the selection process, whereas this player is better than most of the players who have moved up the ladder by defeating lower ranked players. This is not a world class and reliable system of selection. It has been seen very rarely that the top ranked teams or players play each other in the first few rounds of any tournament or championship.
Along with this, the people who were included in the panel of the selection committee were mostly those people who did not have any link with badminton. In this context, the first name is that of Noor Mohammad, whose background is linked with cricket. The second name in this list is of Shalini Malhotra who was a former tennis player. The Deputy Secretary, Sports, of the AIU, Gurdeep Singh was also playing a major role in this selection process. Given all these circumstances, 14 players did not participate in the trials and registered their mass protest before the AIU. At first, AIU ignored this opposition and selected the team for the Championship and no changes were made in the list till the final two days before the team was scheduled to depart for Korea and no impact was seen of the opposition shown by the players. Once the case got hyped in the media, the AIU Deputy Secretary, Sports, Gurdeep Singh stopped speaking to the media. When extensive investigations were made, it was discovered that due to pressure from a Central Minister, making changes in the team was not possible. But as the time for the departure to Korea drew closer, the unrest and discontent among players became more acute and looking at the increasing pressure from the media on this issue, the Minister of State (MoS) in the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Shashi Tharoor intervened and an announcement was made that fresh trials would be organised on 4 November. This time around, the trials were held at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium. When the Chauthi Duniya correspondent went there and tried to find what the procedure of selection would be, then Gurdeep Singh did not give any answer to this question at first. When he was asked how many players would be included in the selection process, then he answered that the selection would be made as per the rules. How many players would be sent was not known to the Deputy Secretary, AIU, till the very last moment this was very disappointing. After a lot of discussion and debate it came to be known that those players who were in the selected team could be challenged by any other player outside the team.
If the player challenges a player in the selected team and wins in the contest, then he would take the place of that player in the final list of selected players. During the trials, one men’s doubles match and one men’s single match was played. In both these matches, the player who was selected in the first phase of the trials lost to their respective challengers. After this three new players were included in the team. In this situation talks of compromise started doing the rounds. It was suggested that by some means the number of players could be increased with the cooperation and coordination of the organisers of the championship, so that the problem could get resolved by itself. But after the loss of Jamia Millia Islamia player, Hamad Bin Aziz in the singles match, Noor Mohammad resigned from the post of the manager of the team. In such a situation the entire scenario started to take a dramatic turn. After some time, when no acceptable solution was found, the rest of the players again insisted on the ‘challenge’ procedure being followed. But by that time, the players who had been selected in the first instance had already left the stadium in a very dramatic fashion. They were contacted through mobile phones and requested to return, but they did not come back. After this, neither was there Noor Mohammad nor was Gurdeep Singh present in the stadium. By looking at the situation, the players who were the challengers made their coach Mohan Chandra wait at the stadium. At around 8 P.M., Gurdeep Singh reached the stadium. The Chauthi Duniya correspondent asked Gurdeep Singh what decision had been officially finalised, but he was not able to give an answer to the question and instead began getting angry at the Chauthi Duniya correspondent. All this while, he was continuously speaking to a number of people on his mobile. He spoke to the Government appointed badminton observer Dinesh Khanna, but he too could not provide a solution. Till late night no decision was made, because the players who were selected at the first instance were getting ready to catch their flights that night. But without a manager and a coach the team could not be sent, so their trip to Korea was deferred. After the fresh trials were not completed a decision was finally taken that the final team would be selected on the basis of the performances of the players in the last one year. Next day there were talks of announcement of the final team for the championship. But the meeting was held at a secret place, where the decision was taken to send 18 players to Korea, whereas it had been decided to send a 12 member team in the first instance. Seven male and five female players were included in that list, but later a compromise was made to send a majority of the players selected in the first list along with all the new challengers in the final team list and the entire selection procedure and parleys which created such a difficult situation in the first place proved to have been pointless. The majority of discontented players were included in the team, but they can create problems for the AIU in the future.
The people who were included in the panel of the selection committee were mostly people who did not have any link with badminton. In this context, the first name is that of Noor Mohammad, whose background is linked with cricket. The second name in this list is of Shalini Malhotra who was a former tennis player.
In the mean time, we also learnt that the players who were selected to go for the championship would have to take care of all their expenses themselves. The AIU has given them the assurance of returning the expenses at a later stage. It also came to be known that the number one ranked men’s player did not come for the selection as his father had already given the indication that he was incapable of sending his son to Korea even if he got selected. His father said that if the AIU could take him at its expense then he had no problem. This is just one such example which came in front of us. A Chauthi Duniya correspondent spoke to the family of one of the players and came to know that the expenses would amount to approximately one lakh rupees. As a result of these problems about 95 per cent of the good players ‘crashed’ out at the very first stage due to financial constraints. The majority of the remaining 5 per cent become the victims of politics and nepotism. In such a situation how can it be expected that the minimal per cent of players would win a medal for the country and embellish the stature of the country as a sporting nation in front of the world.
Eventually, a ‘compromise’ team participated in the championship, but if this sort of selection process is continued in the country, then we will never be able to perform brilliantly at the international level and will not be able to make the country proud. In other countries when the players start advanced preparations to perform brilliantly at the championships, our country has not even finished the selection process by that time. As a result of this the final team gets very little time to prepare for the championships and thus do not perform as per expectations due to lack of preparation. Till the last moment, it is not known how many players will go for the championships and who will get selected and who will not — by ‘selectors’ who are not linked to the game by any stretch of imagination! And yet, they play a major role in the selection process of the team. This is the format of working of our domestic sports organisations.
More than the skill of the player, his political reach, family background and his/her association with a big sports organisation becomes much more important for becoming eligible for selection. India’s performance in this year’s Olympics has been the best performance till date in the Games. If the country has to raise the level of performance in future years at the Olympics and create history, then everyone has to think beyond this type of selection and partiality. It is not a matter related to any single player. It is a matter of the respect of the nation and on this, there should be no compromises.