Fateh Maidan Indoor Stadium, which produced big names in Indian badminton including former All-England champion Pullela Gopi Chand, 2012 London Olympics bronze medallist Saina Nehwal, India’s best shuttler in men’s category Parupalli Kashyap and many others, now presents a sorry sight if the dwindling number of trainees is any indication.

And, at 69 Dronacharya S. M. Arif, who is into his 34th year of coaching, is left wondering on a Monday morning whether the golden days of badminton at this famed indoor stadium are a thing of the past. Visibly peeved at the transfer of his trusted deputy Goverdhan Reddy to Saroornagar Indoor Stadium, Mr. Arif attributes the poor response of trainees to a variety of factors. The numbers have dipped from a healthy 100-odd to about 40 which includes seniors and internationals like Gutta Jwala, Prajakta Sawant and Chetan Anand.

Costly affair

Firstly, each trainee is paying a monthly fee ranging between Rs. 700 and Rs. 1,000 to the Sports Authority of Andhra Pradesh (SAAP). They are also forced to buy 100 barrels of shuttles (each barrel comprising 12 shuttles) every month for which the players contribute money. The cost of equipment too has gone up over the years. A quality racket now costs nothing less than Rs. 14,000 and one needs to spend quite a bit on badminton shoes and apparel too.

Mr. Arif also faces the peculiar problem of young talent, whom he diligently grooms over three to four years, migrating to a high-profile academy in the city. “It definitely hurts when a trainee leaves you. But what is more distressing is the fact that many of my trainees are forced to leave for the fear of not getting the desired treatment and exposure in major events,” he says.

Then what is the solution? “What can I do? I love to keep doing what I enjoy the most -- coach whoever is willing to learn,” he says with a wry smile.

Allegations

With regard to Mr. Goverdhan Reddy, who SAAP officials insist was transferred after allegations were made against him about misappropriation of money collected as fee from trainees under the pay-and-play scheme; Mr. Arif dismisses it as a blatant lie and an excuse to kill badminton in this centre. “Every pie is accounted for and there is no way anyone could have resorted to malpractice,” he says. “Yes, there were complaints that he used to conduct training sessions on holidays too. If this is a crime, especially when players themselves are willing to come, then only God can save us,” says the veteran coach.

Clearly, a combination of factors is posing a serious threat to the very existence of the once hallowed venue of badminton in the city.

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