Joining the league

Several premier leagues have mushroomed across the country mimicing the highly successful Indian Premier League, hoping to give their respective sport a fillip and to fill their coffers. The latest sport to join the bandwagon is badminton and they took a big step forward in mid-2012 announcing the framework of a six-team Indian Badminton League.

On Monday, the IBL conducted an auction to draft in players for the forthcoming season further underlining their intentions to carry the league forward. Some of the prominent shuttlers from around the world including world No 1 Lee Chong Wei and India’s very own Saina Nehwal were part of the auction that saw some intense bidding for players. The dollar-rush in the auction might be a welcome development for a sport trying to strengthen its foothold in the country, but it also revealed the challenges this league will face in the coming days.

The first hint of controversy came when Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa slammed the authorities for halving their base price, though the IBL bigwigs were quick to take steps to diffuse the situation, hiking the fees of these two icon players. But this could just be the beginning of some tough days for the organisers. Conducting a league of this nature across six cities is not an easy task. The IBL might not have the kind of wherewithal that its cricket counterpart has, but taking the players, support staff and other officials across the cities without even the slightest glitch could stretch them to the limit. Then there are other points to deal with such as TV deals, attracting viewers to the venues, and promoting IBL as a brand to develop a strong link with the masses, activities of behind-the-stage nature but they are central to the success of a league like the IBL.

Badminton has a following of its own in India from the times of Prakash Padukone and late Syed Modi but the popularity of the sport has generally been restricted to certain pockets like Bangalore and Mumbai. The arrival of Saina and some other young shuttlers like PV Sindhu, P Kashyap and Ashiwni and their achievements at international level has given the sport a fresh momentum that the IBL hope to exploit. The league indeed has made a positive beginning, and some careful steps are the need of the hour.

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