'It has been a good year for me so far'
Jwala Gutta made history when she and Ashwini Ponappa won a bronze medal in the women's doubles at the World Championships in London last month. The pair achieved what no other Indian shuttler could in the last 28 years, since Prakash Padukone's bronze at the event in 1983.
Last month Gutta was conferred the prestigious Arjuna Award for her recent achievements, which includes a gold medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
But, despite all her success, she laments lack of support from the Badminton Association of India. She wonders why some players get preferential treatment while doubles continues to be ignored by the authorities.
The gorgeous badminton ace, who celebrated her 28th birthday on Wednesday, spoke with Harish Kotian before embarking on a trip to East Asia, where she will participate in the China and Japan Opens.
2011 seems a good year for you. First you created history by winning the bronze medal in the doubles at the World Championships, and then you were conferred the Arjuna Award. Are you happy with the way things have spanned out recently?
Of course, I am very happy. It has been a good year for me so far, and I hope there is more to come.
Photograph: Getty Images
Image: Jwala Gutta
'BAI has done nothing for any player'
Do you think your achievements have helped the sport grow in terms of support from the federation, government and fans, or is there a long way to go for badminton to become popular among the country's youth?
I hope my performance gets me the support I need, because, right now, even after so many good performances at the world level, I still do not have any sponsorship. I hope that we get the support for preparations for the Olympics [next year]. I am sure the way doubles was looked upon, things have changed now. I hope the association also changes the way it used to look at doubles. Now they look at it as a more serious event. Let's hope we can do better.
Former India ace Pradeep Gandhe recently said the Badminton Association of India is giving a lot of attention to doubles and your achievements have been possible because of the association's support. Do you agree with that?
No, I don't really agree with that. I think the BAI did not support us; the Government of India was funding the association before the Commonwealth Games [last year], and that is why we were able to give that kind of a performance.
The Badminton Association of India has done nothing for any player. I don't know why Pradeep Sir made a comment like that; it is not right! If doubles was supported in a proper way, I don't think we would be struggling even now to get a sponsor. We don't have a single sponsor and all the tournaments that we play is from government funding.
We don't have any individual sponsors, so there is no support at all. I don't know why he made a comment like that.
Image: Jwala Gutta
'I think we are doing better than Saina Nehwal'
Are you in favour of getting foreign coaches for doubles? Would that help our players prepare for major events like World Championships and Olympics?
Of course, it will help a lot. I have already told Akhilesh Dasgupta (BAI vice-president) that we need a foreign coach only for doubles, and need him to travel with us. Tat would help us.
Saina Nehwal became the darling of the nation after her success in singles and managed to get a lot of financial support. Are you disappointed that despite your success sponsors have not come forward to support you and partner Ashwini?
This is what happens in our country. This is silly politics that you support one player and you ignore the rest of the players who are also doing well. I think the people should understand that this is why we fail to win medals at the Olympics.
I think we are doing better than Saina, and the bronze medal at the World Championships is proof of that. We did so well, but, even now, if we don't get support then what kind of players will get that.
I think such silly politics should be kept aside; all the players should be treated equally, because it is not that Jwala is working hard and Saina is not working hard, or Saina is working hard and Jwala is not working hard. All of us are working hard towards our careers and everybody should be treated the same. Only then will we get the results; only then can we expect medals at the Olympics.
Image: Jwala Gutta with doubles partner Ashwini Ponappa
'The Olympics is the ultimate aim'
So, despite so many roadblocks, how were you able to achieve so much?
I think Ashwini and me, and Diju and me, are playing so well only because of our strong willpower. There is nothing else to it, but our strong will to do better in every tournament and perform at the highest level.
Do you think it will be possible to break into the top 10 in the doubles rankings by the end of the year?
Yes, I believe breaking into the top 10 is possible by the year end; that is my aim.
How important is the 2012 Olympics for you, personally?
The Olympics is the ultimate aim; that's our dream! Of course, winning a medal at the Olympics will bring the sport into the limelight in the country, though, I think, it is already doing really well.
We won a medal at the World Championships after a long wait of 28 years. Prakash [Padukone] Sir was the last Indian to win a medal at the World Championships. It is already in the limelight, but, as I said earlier, there should be no discrimination among the players. All the silly politics should be kept aside and players must not get involved in the silly politics.
Image: Jwala Gutta shakes a leg with S Sreesanth at the Sahara India Sports Awards in Mumbai last year
'Mixed doubles is tough'
Have you started your preparations for the Olympics? Do you have a plan for the mega event, since it only 10 months away now?
There is still a year to go for the Olympics, and a lot of tournaments before it. I believe they are all part of the preparations for the Olympics. Performing well in those tournaments is important right now. I am only focusing on the upcoming tournaments for now.
How much credit would you give to your partner, Ashwini, for your recent success? She combines really well with you
I give her full credit. She has been very supportive. She is fearless and I like that quality. She is improving every match and that is a very promising sign. Ashwini is playing some fantastic badminton at this point of time and I just hope she keeps getting better in the coming years.
You play in the mixed doubles with V Diju and women's doubles with Ashwini. How do you adjust playing with different partners, especially in the same tournament?
I have been doing it for a very long time now; I am pretty used to it. I think it is difficult to play mixed doubles.
I find it tough, because I have to play with a man opposite me. Mixed doubles is tough, but it also helps me play well in the women's doubles.
Image: Jwala Gutta