New Delhi: India’s Badminton great Pullela Gopichand famously turned down a cola endorsement for ethical reasons. But when it comes to coaching challenges, his takes it very seriously.
Gopi, one of only two Indians to win the All England Championships and the coach who groomed the likes of Saina Nehwal, P Kashyap and PV Sindhu, is expanding his coaching enterprise. So far, he had one center — the Gopichand Badminton Academy in Hyderabad, founded in 2001. Now there will be three more — in Vadodara, Gwalior and Rajasthan. Gopi is also the chief national coach of India.
“When I started playing and coaching, it was a chicken or egg situation. Unless there were facilities, there were no players. And unless the players didn’t perform, they didn’t get the facilities,” says Gopi, speaking from Gandhinagar. “Now that badminton has crossed that level and we have given results, it is time to build on it. We need to get more centers and drive internal competition.”
The 40-year-old father of two will also focus on developing top-notch coaches. “That will be my role, apart from what I’m already doing.”
As India’s coach, Gopi says that 2014 was a key year. “The Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and the World Championships were all held this year. India hosted the Thomas and Uber Cup. I’m happy we came out with good results.”
The new academies — all government funded — are in different stages of preparation. Vadodara, which is ready for launch, will operate out of the new Swami Vivekananda Centre of Excellence built by the Gujarat government. Its features include nine air-conditioned courts, accommodation and a 50m indoor swimming pool.
Gopi ceased being a player almost 15 years ago. Drops and dribbles and smashes apart, has he learnt the nuances of finance and management?
“I wouldn’t say I’m an expert but I know what I want in terms of the end product,” he says. “The last ten years I have spent nearly 12-14 hours every day at my academy in Hyderabad. Over the years I have built a team which knows pretty much what I want.”
Asked if he switches off badminton occasionally, Gopi says he doesn’t feel the need to get away. “Badminton gives me pleasure,” he says. It also helps him stay trim, something not all athletes manage to do after retirement. But says Gopi, “I also keep tabs on what I eat. I keep sugar, rice and roti to a minimum.” Not to mention aerated drinks.
Out of controversy’s way
Gopi’s star player, Saina Nehwal, no longer trains with him. She said this was because he no longer had enough time for her due to his various commitments. Asked about her statement, Gopi said, “The (new) academies only started now.” He refused to comment beyond this.