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Updated: December 20, 2012 00:06 IST

Saina cocks a snook at BAI

Rakesh Rao
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Saina Nehwal. Photo: Subir Roy
The Hindu
Saina Nehwal. Photo: Subir Roy

Cocking a snook at the Badminton Association of India, a defiant Saina Nehwal chose to withdraw when holding two match-points against Russian Ksenia Polikarpova in the first round of the $120,000 Syed Modi Grand Prix Gold badminton championship here.

The World No. 3 cited a knee-injury that had troubled her from this year’s Denmark Open as the reason for her decision to withdraw when leading 21-17, 20-18 against a rival ranked 165th.

“With many important tournaments lined up next month, I decided not to aggravate the injury,” said a smiling Saina after she waved to the disappointed crowd for cheering her all the way in the 29-minute encounter.

It is a well-known fact that Saina has repeatedly chosen to rest whenever the BAI wanted her to play in the country in events other than the India Open Super Series in New Delhi. She has not played in the National championship since retaining the crown in 2008 and has withdrawn more than once from the dollar-events held in the country.

“We send entries almost a month in advance hoping to play. But sometimes, physically, you are in no condition to play. Saina has had a long season and is probably too tired,” was Chief National coach P. Gopi Chand’s feeble defence when asked why send an entry only to withdraw.

Expected decision

Strange as it may sound, in spite of being under “pressure” from the BAI to play here, Saina’s decision to pullout was expected all along. Last year, too, she withdrew after arriving here but without taking the court. Since the event here is preceded by the season-ending World Super Series Finals and followed by the season-opener, cash-rich Korea Open, Saina’s reluctance to play here is easy to guess.

The Olympic bronze medallist obviously wants to recover and train before the Korea Open and Malaysia Open in January instead of facing weak opposition in a Grand Prix Gold event. Since she was not defending any points earned from the corresponding week last year, she loses nothing.

The BAI President Akhilesh Das, who hails from the city, was left embarrassed. With the city-based Sahara India coming in as her latest sponsor, Saina’s decision to withdraw is being seen as an act of defiance.

“Throughout the year, the BAI does everything that Saina wants. Government allows Saina economy class (airfare) but BAI helps her travel First Class by paying the difference in fare. In return, BAI wants her to play in a couple of events in the country. But that is not happening,” said a senior BAI official on condition of anonymity.

One of the members of the Organising Committee said, “We all feel let down by Saina. In fact, for being an Olympic bronze medallist, she was to be presented a cheque for Rs. 25 lakh on the final day of the event.”

According to Competition Director Girish Natu, Saina made a request to advance her first round match from 2.20 p.m. to 12.20 p.m. saying she had a local commitment in the afternoon. Later, it was learnt that Saina had already booked ticket to leave for Hyderabad.

By the end of the day, a ‘chastened’ BAI must have realised that it is better to accept a firm ‘no’ than a reluctant ‘yes’ from Saina. As one of the BAI official put it, “Sadly, the truth is, the Indian badminton needs Saina Nehwal more than Saina needing Indian badminton.”

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Time for BAI and other sports governing bodies to learn. Sania is a professional and like any professional (in any field) she works for money. Where the money is less, obviously the interest to work will also be less. Instead of wasting an opportunity by roping in a reluctant player and spending a lot of freebies to that player, the sports governing bodies should spend more on improving the infrastructure and nurture developing players. This will lead to increasing the level of challenge and bring in more money. Finally, the professional players will be attracted to play in the event rather than having to say yes due to other reasons.

from:  Solomon
Posted on: Dec 20, 2012 at 11:56 IST
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