Meeting Pullela Gopichand
Here are some excerpts from an exclusive interview I did with the iconic badminton coach Pullela Gopichand for Russia and India Report–a news project by Rossiyskaya Gazeta. Pullela Gopichand has contributed immensely towards the success and popularity of badminton in India. He has coached most of the leading Indian shuttlers. Speaking in the context of Russian players being included in Premier Badminton League and Indo-Russian sporting ties, he shared a slice of nostalgia.
“Till about mid 80’s Indo-Russian test matches used to be organised. 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.
Gopichand remarked that most Indians prefer cinema and television over sports for entertainment. As I was representing a Russian publisher, he shared an amusing 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 quip, ‘how many of these do you’ve in your country? We’ve 20 of them in Khabarovsk.’ Clearly they had been trumped.
Gopichand reiterated the often-proposed solution that in India sports should be given a far greater importance as a means of fitness and recreation. He rued the lack of sports infrastructure in the country, “Let’s say that about one percent of the people decide to play, are there adequate arenas available?” When I mentioned about the inclusion of sports in school curriculums in India and Russia, he said, “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.”