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Home > City Resources > Sports and Recreation > Interview with SM Arif- Badminton coach

 'GOPI IS AN AGGRESSIVE PLAYER' 
SM ArifOne man whom Gopi Chand thanked with all his heart after winning the All England Championship was Syed Mohammed Arif, Chief National Coach, Badminton. Yes, that is the respect SM Arif commands from Gopi Chand. Arif was coaching Gopi since 1985 when Gopi was just a 11 year old boy. "Gopi first came to me in 1985 and right from his child hood Gopi had some qualities which are essential for a player to develop into a world beater," says Arif.

With a single passion towards the game, Arif has been coaching players since 1972 and nurturing them into top ones. Today he comes to the Lal Bahadur Stadium everyday to coach the players. Hyderabad-best.com caught up with the 58-year-old super coach for an exclusive interview where he dwells about the badminton scenario and Gopi Chand's success.

You've been quite instrumental in making Gopi a top player. How did you mould him into a successful player?

Since his childhood, Gopi was a different player. Generally among children there is a tendency that when they get tired during play they stop, but Gopi Chand was a completely different player. He trained himself very hard and used to continuously play even when he got tired. His style of play was aggressive and he used to jump and smash the cork. In India few players jump and play. His game was a fast paced one. These are generally considered as modern techniques of the game and he wants to go with it. And right from the beginning I moulded him on these lines.

As a coach you've been associated with Gopi Chand right from his child hood. Can you just tell us how did Gopi Chand evolve into a top player in badminton?

Coaching in LB stadiumGopi first came to me in 1985 and right from his child hood Gopi had some qualities which are essential for a player to develop into a world beater. One of his weak points was that he used to get jittery when he used to lose the game. I feel that one who doesn't take defeat very seriously will not evolve into a top class player. With his hard work, he became a top junior level player in 1991 only. At that time he was fortunate to have played with some international players like Manoj Kumar, Praveen Kumar, and Sunil Anirudh and he got good exposure to the game. During that period a Chinese coach was appointed to coach the Indian players but Gopi was not selected by the Chinese coach. At the same time the Malaysian team was touring India for a three test series. In the second match held in Hyderabad, Badminton Association of India (BAI) agreed to select him on my recommendation. And to the surprise of everyone he won the match very easily. Later he won some great matches and in one of the matches in the European circuit, he not only qualified in the first round but also defeated Johanson Thomas - the world number 23 and the tallest badminton player in the world. But in 1994 he was injured during the national games held in Pune and this was the most critical period of his life. He was in the bed for nearly six months but came back superbly and beat Deepankar Bhattachargee 15-0, 15-2 in his first come back match. This shows his strength, determination and commitment to the game.

Have you ever felt during your coaching days that he would be such a top player?

Way back in 1987 I predicted that one day he would be a world champion. He had some rare qualities that are essential for a player to become world-class. His hard work, game style and determination were quite fascinating. In 1996 I realized that if he remains in Hyderabad he would not get many chances. I felt that he needs international exposure. Therefore I advised him to go to the BPL Academy run by Prakash Padukone in Bangalore. There was no sponsorship problem in Bangalore and I felt he has to play 10-15 tournaments in a year to come up to the level of a world class player. After that he participated in a lot of tournaments overseas and played tremendously.

Arif in actionWhat are the key elements that make Gopi a successful player?

Discipline, dedication, and determination. These are the three most important things that make Gopi a successful player. The way he came back from injury in 1994 was really commendable. Players try to over work to recuperate themselves and ultimately lose their physical strength, but Gopi practiced according to the situation and came back to his form slowly.

What was your reaction when Gopi won the All England championship?

( face lights up) It was a great day for me. He made the whole country proud and I hope that he will win more tournaments for the country in the future.

You said recently that the coming two years would be quite crucial for Gopi Chand. In what way are they going to be crucial?

Badminton is one of the toughest games in the world. If a player reaches the top position, he generally tries to overdo the things by working very hard which could become detrimental for a player. Now Gopi has reached the top level and the training has to be optimum. The other point is that he is already 27 and after three years he will be in his thirties. So I believe these two years will be quite crucial for him.

Why are we not able to produce many Gopi Chands in India? What's wrong with our sports policy?

The socio-economic pattern of the society. We give more importance to education. In countries like China, Korea, Malaysia, sports are given much importance and they produce world-class players. If we want to produce good sports persons our attitude towards sports has to change.

How is the position of badminton in India?

Arif, badminton coachRight now we are pretty well placed in the international scenario. For the past four years our performance has gone up. Some of the important tournaments, which we won in recent years proves this. In the 1998-99 Common Wealth games we won 4 medals. In Sudirman cup we won 3 doubles and 2 singles titles. We could have won some more titles there but the format of play was not suitable to us. Our world ranking has also improved; presently we are placed at 16 in the world rankings. Siddharth Jain and Shyam Gupta have both won the French titles. Surely we are improving in the badminton arena.

How do you think the government can help to encourage players' performance?

The most important thing is that the government should provide adequate shuttles at subsidised rates. And also we should have some major sponsor for the sport to lean back on. If you notice, all over the globe, sports are very dependent on sponsorship. If we can get more sponsorship, it will be really good for Indian badminton.

Who are some of the promising players in India today according to you?

There are quite a few players who can be an asset to Indian badminton in the future. Siddharth Jain, Abhin Shyam Gupta, Nikhil Kanitkar, Abhishek Bakshi, Anup Sridhar, Chetan Anand, SPS Krishna, Jwala and Shruthi are some of them.

How is the badminton scenario in AP at present?

We are at the top in the country at present. Jwala and Shruthi reached the quarter finals in Junior World championship doubles held in China in November last year. In March 2001 they reached the German Open Quarter-finals in doubles.

P Gopi ChandWhat are the steps that you suggest to make badminton popular in AP?

The basic thing we need at present is good infrastructure. For that there should be at least four courts in the city alone.

Are there any sponsors for the current players from AP?

We don't have many sponsors at present. But I am extremely thankful to Kailash Charan of Srinath Jewellers for sponsoring Jwala who is an upcoming player from AP. Indian Badminton Federation (IBF) is already sponsoring Lakshmi and Sports Authority of Andhra Pradesh (SAAP) is planning to provide four lakh rupees for the sponsorship of the players.

The AP government recently said that they would like to establish a Badminton academy in the state. How do you react to it?

It will be really good. But the academy should have a sound infrastructure and be equipped with proper equipment. Apart from this we also need sports medicine experts, psychologists, physiotherapists and good coaches.
- MAR Fareed
Photographs: Srinivas Setty

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