Pullela Gopichand has been at the centre of India’s rise as a badminton powerhouse. As a player first and then as a coach, he has witnessed how India transitioned into a world-beating badminton-playing nation.
Gopichand, the former All England Open winner, talking about India’s emergence as a badminton powerhouse at RCB Innovation Lab’s Leaders Meet India in Bengaluru, recently said, “At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, I think we were happy collecting memorabilia, participating in opening and closing ceremonies and posing for photographs. And at Rio in 2016, 85 per cent of the team were there to perform and give their best. There was a hunger to win. And that’s new India for me.”
Gopichand also recounted the days when the Indian government refused to send the Indian team to Auckland Commonwealth Games in 1990 simply because ‘shuttlers were considered not good enough’.
But things have changed for the better, and Gopichand has been at the centre of that change, nurturing the Indian talents at his Hyderabad academy.
Emphasising how India’s badminton has transformed, Gopichand cited another instance of the evolution of the game in India.
“In 1997, when I went to China, I remember how I went to train there and I got a coach from India. I did not havmultiplee a sparring partner to train against because I was the lone Indian competing in the event.
The coach would throw the shuttle and I would hit it six times on the other side of the court. Then I would do the reverse to hone my servicing skills. Due to drift or jet lag, I missed a few shuttles during the training, and the entire crowd was laughing,” recalled Gopichand.
“From there when Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth won the women’s and men’s singles final at the China Open in 2014 and 2016, it showed the change Indian badminton has gone through,” stated Gopichand. Both Saina and Srikanth were two of Gopichand’s star trainees, and they were the former world no. 1.
While Gopichand has been the architect of India’s badminton revolution, his coaching career was not without struggle.
He built his academy in Hyderabad and has singlehandedly produced shuttlers like Saina, Srikanth, PV Sindhu, HS Prannoy and now India’s highest-ranked men’s doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty.
But when he had planned to build the academy early in this millennium, he dealt with a rude shock.
“I went to the office of a business person in Mumbai in the hope of raising funds for my academy. I went there because the chairman had said he would provide me with the funds. But the CFO made me wait outside the office for three days to tell me that badminton does not have the eyeball to be a top sport in the world,” Gopichand said, adding, “He also said, Indians can be good at the sport, and only good players can be good coaches.”
Gopichand was insulted, but his determination and commitment to the sport remained unchanged.
“That night, I went back home and decided to sell my house. Thanks to my parents and my mom, we mortgaged the house and that was I started and post that the government help me to get the land,” said Gopichand.
The 44-year-old coach also said his idea is to build an ecosystem from where India will continue to get top talent.