By T S Sudhir
Another Hyderabadi wants to take to badminton. His name : Mohammed Azharuddin.
Claim to fame : Former Indian cricket captain and now Congress MP from Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh.
Claim to notoriety : Banned for life by the BCCI in 2000 for being allegedly involved in match-fixing.
Azhar wants to become the president of the Badminton Association of India (BAI). The elections will be held in Chennai on 13th June. And despite being in a city, where you do not need to make an effort to sweat, current BAI chief, V K Verma is sparing no effort to ensure Azhar gets no sweat equity.
Verma does have his detractors in the Union sports ministry who want him out on the grounds that he has been on the court for 12 years already. Azhar calls it a very “long innings”. Indeed, like many members of his politician-bureaucrat tribe, this babu has dominated the game in India, like no Prakash Padukone or Pullela Gopichand has done. And surely the game could do with some new blood, fresh ideas and younger spirit.
In the last three years, national coach Pullela Gopichand has been able to mould a group of players into champion material, Saina Nehwal being the most promising of the lot, with a world number 6 ranking at the moment. A dynamic leadership at BAI could make Indian badminton even more of a smash hit.
But then the question being raised is whether Azzu bhai is the right man for the top job at BAI. Lovers of the game say a tainted sportsperson is not desirable, even if the alleged misdeeds were not committed in the world of badminton. Surely it cannot be that in a country of one hundred crore people, Indian badminton’s choice is restricted to a Verma and an Azhar.
Having known Azhar for 15 years now, I am sure, he must be indignant that he is being no-balled in badminton. The stylish middle-order bat has in the past, even fallen back on his religion to argue on why he was being targetted by the BCCI and accused of throwing away matches for a consideration. Hope he does not raise the same bogey if he is not allowed to contest the polls on Sunday.
In 2005, he was in fact, provided with gunmen after reportedly receiving threats from the D-gang. When this fact came out in the public domain, courtesy the Hyderabad police, Azhar was livid because it only established some kind of a connect between him and the underworld.
Now as an honourable member of Parliament, Azhar wants to be seen as a proactive sports administrator. Nothing wrong with that. After all, he has every right to move on in life. But sports federation elections in India, as Azhar would realise, are more about politics and less about sports.
Azhar came like a whiff of fresh air into Indian cricket, with three consecutive hundreds against England in 1984. He was ignonimously thrown out of Indian cricket, 16 years later, stranded on 99 Tests, not allowed to hit the hundred he craved for most. Subsequent efforts he made to get the ban revoked haven’t borne fruit.
Those close to Azhar regret that he got stuck with the taint while other politically more well-connected got away. And say his alleged crimes were nothing compared to the kind of cricketing scandals, that occupy the headlines now.
With the likes of Saina and Chetan Anand ensuring Indian badminton is on a roll, Azhar clearly thinks this is the best game to be associated with, at the moment. But perhaps it would be in everyone’s interest that the game be allowed to prosper instead of attention veering towards the the dramatis personae off court.