India's shuttle dreams riding on new $1 million league

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The franchise-based Indian Badminton League (IBL) kicks off in New Delhi. The franchise-based Indian Badminton League (IBL) kicks off in New Delhi.
SummaryThe franchise-based Indian Badminton League (IBL) kicks off in New Delhi.

Indian organisers hope the absence of China's superstars will not take the shine off a new $1 million badminton league, which players and officials believe will grow the game and help foster future Olympic medallists.

The franchise-based Indian Badminton League (IBL) kicks off in New Delhi on Wednesday and organisers hope it will generate the same kind of commercial success enjoyed by the country's money-spinning Twenty20 cricket competition, the Indian Premier League.

The six-team badminton league held a player auction last month where world number one Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia was bought by the Mumbai franchise for $135,000, while Pune bought women's world number two Juliane Schenk of Germany for $90,000.

Notable absentees were Chinese shuttlers such as double Olympic gold medallist Lin Dan, number two ranked Chen Long and women's world number one Li Xuerui.

Lee's participation was also a cause for concern after the Malaysian retired from the World Championship final against Lin due to cramp.

Manish Kumar, a vice president at the IBL's commercial partner Sporty Solutionz, said he hoped China would one day send it shuttlers to play in the Indian league.

"We contacted the Chinese shuttlers as well and made presentations but they have a unique policy and approach towards participation," added Kumar, who confirmed Lee would take part.

"I believe the IBL was the talk of the town at Guangzhou (World Championships) but we have to wait for a change in their participation policy before we see them here. Hope they realise India can be a great partner in badminton."

DRAMA AND ACTION

Touted as the world's richest badminton tournament, the IBL has ditched the customary system requiring a gap of two points to win a game, with matches to be decided by a race to 21 points for the first two games and 11 for a decider.

India's doubles specialist Jwala Gutta said at Tuesday's trophy unveiling ceremony the rules tweak would make games more exciting for spectators.

"The game is shorter, there will be more aggression. It would be faster, hopefully a lot of drama and action. I hope everyone will have a lot of fun with the format," added Gutta.

Local favourite Saina Nehwal said the league could help lift Indian badminton onto an equal footing with the Chinese some day.

"It's a great news for all badminton players. I'm really happy that most of the top players are playing here," said the London Olympic bronze medallist, who was bought by the Hyderabad franchise for $120,000 in the July 22 auction.

"India has grown in badminton and it shows in our recent performances. Days are not far when we can win five-six medals in Olympics, like China," added the world number four.

Danish doubles specialist Mathias Boe, who will represent Lucknow, said the league's long-term success would depend on how the inaugural edition goes.

"The money is quite big for many players but not for all top shuttlers," said the London Olympic silver medallist.

"But money is not everything. Hopefully the stadium is packed. It gives a better atmosphere when the television viewers are watching and it's not an empty stadium, but a packed one and people are going nuts.

"If it's a success, sponsors will pay more. It's a natural thing. I'm not so concerned about money right now. It just needs to be a big success, the first year, here."

Nehwal said Indian players had to keep producing on the big stage to ensure the tournament is a success.

"The IBL is happening in a big way only because Indian players are producing good performances in tournaments across the world," said the 23-year-old.

"If we continue to perform, the league will grow. You need to perform consistently. Only then the league would be a success."

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