The Indian badminton team won its first-ever Thomas Cup title in 73 years on May 1st, beating 14-time champions Indonesia in a historic achievement in men’s badminton in India.
On this occasion, The logical Indian The crew interviewed Aparna Popat, two-time Olympian, nine-time national champion in women’s singles and recipient of the 2005 Arjuna Award, who has witnessed the journey of badminton in India over the past decade firsthand.
Many people have equated the Thomas Cup win with the 1983 Cricket World Cup moment; what are your thoughts on this?
Yes, I agree. Thomas Cup in badminton is touted as the world championship as it is the only team game in an individual sport like badminton. Even considering we were underdogs, we finished fifth. Just like the Indian cricket team in 1983, we exceeded all expectations by beating 14-time champions Indonesia.
For a long time it was asked when the men will play like badminton players and win medals. This is an apt and solid response to those critics.
What do you think are the reasons for India winning the Thomas Cup this year?
One of the key factors in Team Championships is that all players must fire together for that one week. The players had to perform consistently and complement each other.
For the last four to six months of this new season we’ve had consistently good performances from the men’s team internationally and they’ve been able to carry that momentum into the Thomas Cup. The team spirit was exemplary, we had a solid team that came out and turned their chances into victories.
As you mentioned, the players have performed consistently well this season. This shows how India has produced good quality and quantity of players over the past decade. Which factors do you think have changed significantly from then to now?
We’ve always had some success over the years, whether it’s Prakash Padukone winning All England in 1980 or Pullela Gopichand in 2001. Of course, the rise in performance since the 2010s shows some changes in Indian badminton on the ground floor.
Major tournaments have been held in India, including the 2010 Commonwealth Games where Saina Nehwal won the gold medal in women’s singles. We also won gold in women’s doubles. At the 2012 Olympics, Saina Nehwal won bronze, and PV Sidhu won a silver medal at the subsequent 2016 Olympics. In Tokyo 2021, Sindhu again won the bronze medal. Badminton has been in good form in India throughout the decade.
We have a solid system and setup with trainers and foreign trainers for learning from abroad so that we are not limited to just one approach. Many tournaments are organized and hosted by India from the Commonwealth Games to World Championships and recently the Badminton Premiere League was held. This foray into badminton has resulted in players and coaches seeing a potential career and striving to make it something big.
There is immense support among the Badminton Fraternity and Badminton Association of India, Sports Authority of India and the Government has always supported our vision. When you put all of this together, the whole ecosystem is complete.
In terms of regional badminton participation, it was mostly concentrated in southern parts of India. How do you think badminton stands in the Indian population at the moment?
Players usually start out at their local academies and when they reach a certain level they move on to the two to three reputable badminton academies that produce great players. It’s like when you go to school; You go to your neighborhood and start your education. Then you go to the university branch office to have better academic opportunities. This used to be the overall system.
But now, with more achievements and advances in the sport, newer academies have been set up, more infrastructure prepared with good coaches enthusiastic about taking it up as a career.
Where do you see badminton in the next 20 years?
India has won a medal at every single World Cup since 2011. We’ve had that kind of success and it’s not going to stop anytime soon. The future of badminton is in very, very safe hands with good coaches and players growing all the time. We have the talent, the banking strength and new opportunities, and the government funding has been phenomenal.
Badminton looks up. Every time I think this is the most significant achievement in the history of Indian badminton, it just keeps getting better.
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