There is many a slip between talking and doing in India sport and this home truth was reflected (yet again) in the shameful controversy that followed the auction for Indian Badminton League. It is evident that what is good for cricket is not necessarily so for other sport, especially in our country. To blindly ape a successful formula without first doing due diligence is asking for trouble and that precisely what has happened in the IBL.
Let us be honest to begin with and admit that most of us are clueless about who is who in World badminton that receives only intermittent Media exposure in India and only because of the likes of Nehwal and Kashyap. We get to read about young guns like Sindhu only when the PR guys put out a release.
Badminton never had a dedicated or large following in India that can even be compared to cricket. Even during the salad days of Prakash Padukone, the interest in badminton was at best sporadic rather than sustained.
During the '80s, I travelled with Prakash for his tournaments following his All-England triumph and I can vouch that he was more popular in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailnd than in his own country! In fact, in 2008, during the Beijing Olympics, I bumped into Hou Chia Chang who had visited India in mid-1970s and won the singles title in the Asian championship and his first question was about the well-being of Prakash and said the Indian was still popular in China.
After Prakash's retirement in the late '80s, interest in badminton waned considerably until Gopichand won the All-England in 2001. Gopi, however, was unable to ride the success wave and it was not until the emergence of Saina Nehwal that interest in Indian badminton perked up.
Thus, badminton has always struggled to remain in India's public consciousness. Also, with our Media too pre-occupied with cricket and Euro football, it was no surprise that other sports suffered from inadequate exposure.
Under the circumstances, I am not sure whether IBL will evoke much interest among the paying public, though I will be extremely happy if skeptics like me are proven wrong. The 8 pm start for matches can also boomerang with the country in the midst of a particularly vigorous monsoon.
The impact of IPL is such that the dollar sign seems to be flashing in the eyes of every other sports administrator in India. There was talk about IPL-type leagues in wrestling, volleyball, and boxing, but nothing concrete has come about.
A couple of ambitious Bangalore-based businessmen planned to launch an IPL-style motor racing league. We were even taken to Abu Dhabi for the launch, but eventually, it fizzled out because it was obvious from the start the promoters had not done their homework.
Hockey was not far behind to ape the IPL with the World Series Hockey which was a flop and then the rival league by Hockey India that just about passed muster in terms of quality and eyeballs.
It is to be hoped that the IBL will not meet a premature death because it is about time sportspersons other than cricketers and tennis players earn a decent living out of the game. Badminton, despite Prakash, Gopichand and Nehwal, has failed to take off in India and much of the blame lies on the door step of the federation whose officials have done little or nothing to promote the sport they govern.
Going by reports, the IBL has got off on the wrong foot with Ashwini and Jwala sulking and lambasting the organizers for failure to command a high price. The 2011 All-England champion Mathias Boe did not even attract a bid and went unsold. He quite naturally let fly and vowed not to play in India (not that anyone cares). It is the kind of negative publicity that the league could have done without.
My fear is that IBL promoters, in their anxiety to provide advertisement spots during the telecast of the matches, have needlessly tinkered with the flow of the matches by introducing one-minute breaks during a game and two-minute interval between games.
Like IPL, the badminton league will do little to develop the sport at the grassroot level. Rather, it is a venture whose focus is commerce and the sport is incidental. Cricket attracts sponsors like flies to a pie, but the same is not true with other sport in India.
Thus, blindly following IPL is hardly the route one take to promote and develop badminton, and if it is all about financials, then one can only wish the IBL good luck.