Say hello to Mani Shankar Aiyar for a real cock-up

ASHWINI A. writes from Bangalore: Badminton is the sport which, in the eyes of the great Sunil Gavaskar, has contributed the greatest ever sportsman produced by this country: Prakash Padukone.

In Pullela Gopichand, it is also the sport that has contributed one of our most conscientious, a man who could do what no cricketer or film star could when the softdrinks makers dangled big cheques before him to endorse their poisonous brew: say no.

Yet, in a disgrace that is difficult to comprehend, the national camp in Goa for 32 badminton players competing in the upcoming Thomas Cup and Uber Cup has been cancelled at the last minute today.

Reason: non-availibility of shuttle cocks.

Yes, you read that right! Non-availibility of shuttle cocks.

A country which is clocking close to 9 per cent GDP growth, which has billions of dollars in foreign exchange reserves, whose scientists are planning to go to the moon, whose stock market is caressing 20,000, whose business and film stars paid hundreds of crores to pick up cricket franchises last month could not supply shuttle cocks to its players to practice!

And yes, we are the same country which will host the Commonwealth Games two years from now, which wants to host the Olympics some time soon, and which periodically breaks out in politically correct sweat about cricket hogging all the limelight.

If not getting their shuttle cocks is bad enough, wait for this. According to a Press Trust of India report, officials of the Badminton Association of India, admittedly not one of our most cohesive bodies, have been running from the Sports Authority of India pillar to the Union sports ministry post for the last five months—that is 150 days and counting—for the requisite shuttle cocks.

And, yes, the Union sports minister is Mani Shankar Aiyar, the panchayat raj pasha who has a sagely solution for every problem under the arclights of airconditioned television studios, and who is currently pushing an “aggressive sports policy” when not trying to get Leave Travel Allowance for bureaucrats to visit the Northeast.

“This has happened due to the complete apathy on the part of the director general, Sports Authority of India, and the Sports secretary. I have met them so many times and informed them about the shortage,” BAI president V.K. Verma has said.

“This is sabotage on their part for the preparation of the Youth Games in Pune this year…. I even told them that we will import the shuttlecocks and they can pay later but DGSAI said we will have to get procedural clearance. We did the paper work required but we have not got the clearance.”

How much would the shuttle cocks have cost? Say Rs.10 lakh? Rs 20 lakh? Rs one crore? How difficult is it to cough up that amount, when the sports ministry finds it so easy to find funds to send more officials than players on foreign junkets? And how difficult is to find a corporate sponsor or a sporting brand willing to underwrite the expense in return for some exposure?

And how difficult is it to get “procedural clearance” for a box of shuttle cocks even in big, bad, bureaucratic Delhi? 10 days? 20 days? 100 days?

Can we ever imagine a cricket match, even a Ranji or Duleep Trophy match, being called off because there were no balls of the leather kind? Two years ago, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) decided to contribute to non-cricketing sports by way of funding and sponsorship. Perhaps it needs to look at badmintion first.

BAI officials say this loss of preprations will severely hamper India’s chances in the world champtionship and the other prestious tournaments that kick off in Vietnam in less than two weeks. Is this a case of “For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the battle was lost. For want of a battle the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail”?

Who must be held responsible for this fiasco? The sports ministry officials for sleeping over the matter for months? Or BAI officials who expected mandarins to do their job despite knowing what was likely to happen? Is BAI guilty of lack of anticipation and not having a plan B and jeopardising India’s chances in international tournaments?

Whatever be the case, this is a day to get angry for sports-loving Indians.

And to feel a bit of shame for this monumental shuttle cock-up.

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