Dissanayake reviews the present system in this racquet sport and finds most players lacking commitment and discipline
Former seven times national badminton champion Kaushali Dissanayake belongs to a rare breed of sportswomen who prefer to talk about the system which produced champions rather than harp on their own glories.
Kaushali is on time for her appointment with Nation Weekend which goes without saying that punctuality has been one of her traits since taking to the sport seriously. The years have rolled by since she quit playing competitive badminton in 1997, but appearance wise it seems she has managed to stop the clock. For the record, she still plays regularly in the mercantile championships where she represents McLarence Group of Companies. Now there is no reason to think so deep as to why she looks so fit. I try to work a way out in my mind to form that question so as to get her age. My mind responds poorly and lets me down. I get on with the interview.
She is accompanied by her son on whom she has part of her gaze fixed while she talks to this writer. Kaushali has to reveal some statistics when talking about achievements during the interview. Her son says, “Mom you never told me that,” to which Kaushali responds, “You never asked”. She is modest, but she will call a spade a spade.
Kaushali observes that the present day players are not short of skill. But she has questions about their commitment. “During my time, when the coach said something we jolly well did it. We had little facilities, trained without complaining and were willing to travel even by bus. We also had so much respect for our coaches, officials and elders. I think all this went into making solid players during my time,” says Kaushali.
She is very serious during the interview. ‘Absorbed’ would be a better word. This writer asks whether she would have applied for a wildcard to go play in the Olympics. A lovely smile lights up her face. “Yes I would,” she said. She says she also had dreams about playing in the Olympics, but when she was at her peak, badminton had just been introduced to the Olympics and probably the players at that time had their focus on tournaments like Thomas and Uber Cup or the South Asian Games.
Talking about the games held once in four years, she opines that it’s quite ok to dream about going for the Olympics. “Players should have dreams. But you have to train extra hard if you want to make it to the Olympics. I say this because people will not define you as a wildcard or a member of a refugee team, like at this year’s Olympic Games and give you a chance during competition. You will be up against the best,” she reflects.
These are days when we see loads of junior players going overseas to represent Sri Lanka at international tournaments. Often the best players can’t raise funds and the country is represented by lower-rated players who find their passage. “During my time, I too had to go in search of sponsors to raise funds for overseas tours. There were times when I failed to get a sponsor and stayed back. But the administrators during that time made it a point only to send the best players for oversees tours unlike today,” says Kaushali.
The present day players are going oversees at a rate to contest international tournaments. Through their actions they show that they are patriotic. But they are planning for these tours by standing on a platform which is so shaky. “These players are going abroad all right, but for how long? There is no contribution made to them by Sri Lanka Badminton to go on these tours,” she affirms. With over 1,000s of players with potential taking to the game in Sri Lanka she pops the question, “What is stopping us from working hard and producing a Sindhu.” She says we should rethink and shift our present goal, which is to finish second behind India at the South Asian Games, to something higher.
She supports the idea of having a foreign coach to train the national team. “But we must invest on a coach who can stand up for himself and tell the players what to do,” she says.
Why don’t past players like Kashali come up to serve as administrators? “The system is too politicized,” she says. Would provincial associations support a person who favours none, has a proven track record, works hard, loves the sport and speaks the truth? The answer is no and Kaushali knows that!