Badminton in Sri Lanka is a sport that is painfully experiencing a slump. Youth players are told to spend out of their pockets or raise funds if they wish to go on foreign tours. All this is because Sri Lanka Badminton doesn’t have a principal sponsor. Most often busloads of players are sent abroad for tournaments which Sri Lanka has no chance of producing any medals.
Very recently, the Sri Lanka junior team was sent to contest the Asian Junior Badminton Championships in Kudos, Indonesia. Each player was told to raise Rs 100,000 for the tournament and as many as 32 players made the tour. There was little or no success at this tournament with just a boy winning one first round game.
Former Sri Lanka junior national coach Chintaka Fernando sees many reasons for the decline in the standard of youth badminton players. According to him, chief among them is that the players are focused as individuals and don’t much care about where the team or country is heading in this sport.
Fernando recalled the year 2009 in an interview with Weekend Nation where Sri Lanka hosting the Asian Junior Badminton Championships finished with gold medal in the girls’ doubles and a bronze in the mixed doubles. “At that time, the Sri Lanka Badminton Federation had the services of reputed officials and we used to have plans and discuss the future,” is how Fernando began an interview with this scribe.
According to Fernando, most of the top players in that tournament like P.V. Sindhu (India) and Ratchanok Intanon (Thailand) went on to reach world standard. The two Sri Lankan girls who stole the show at the 2009 Asian Championships, Achini Ratnasiri and Upuli Samanthika, are still playing, but haven’t made any impact in the Asian badminton scene.
“When I was the coach I had to look into the nutrition of players, their fitness and even sponsorships. Players can fall by the wayside if player welfare is neglected,” said Fernando who hinted that the governing body for badminton in the country (Sri Lanka Badminton) is controlled by people who have no vision for the sport.
Fernando pointed out that players are also hell-bent on making foreign tours. “Parents also support these tours because their children can then aim to get marks through sport for University entrance. These tours also help children gain school colours. There is no focus at all now to perform against tough opposition,” said Fernando who added that players like Ratnasiri and Samanthika played against the best in Asia on the way to winning their gold medals.
The badminton coach said that the present day players have better facilities like equipment, kitting and courts. “What’s needed today is individual attention to players and the forming of a badminton academy,” he said.
At present the Senior Nationals, Junior Nationals and the Mercantile Championships are held concurrently. Fernando is of the opinion that the juniors are robbed of a great opportunity of contesting the nationals with ‘fresh legs’ because the junior nationals would have exhausted them. To add to the woes of some of the senior players, they have to shuttle between Kurunegala (venue for the Senior Nationals) and Colombo (venue for the Mercantile Championships) during the larger part of October.
Fernando also observed a significant drop in the number of entries for the senior women’s doubles, mixed doubles, women’s singles, veteran men’s singles and veteran mixed doubles at the nationals. He said that players were at a disadvantage when tournaments clashed because a player can peak only for one tournament.
He advised players to concentrate on one event with the view of raising the badminton standards in the country. “Players must focus on physical conditioning and they must also be mentally tough. If there are shortcomings in preparing players mentally, they can be in trouble,” he said.
Fernando concluded the interview by stating that the authorities should reduce the number of players going abroad on tours and save some of that money for development. “As of now, good junior players who can’t raise funds are left out of tours and Sri Lanka is represented by mediocre players. This is very bad for the sport,” he said.