Badminton-India determined to make Thomas Cup euphoria count

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By Amlan Chakraborty

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's shock Thomas Cup triumph has handed its badminton bosses an opportunity to transform the game's profile in the cricket-mad country and they are determined not to squander it.

India shook up the badminton world last month with a 3-0 dismantling of Thomas Cup royalty Indonesia in the final of the prestigious men's team championship in Bangkok.

Impact Arena was an appropriate venue for India, playing their maiden final, to stun 14-times champions Indonesia and become only the sixth nation to win the coveted trophy.

Editorials were written, cash awards announced and Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the tributes to players Lakshya Sen, Kidambi Srikanth, HS Prannoy, Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy.

"Few in India knew about Thomas Cup, and overnight the players have become household names," Badminton Association of India (BAI) secretary Sanjay Mishra told Reuters.

"Our effort is to build on this euphoria. Our prime minister said there must be a fivefold increase in the number of badminton players in the country."

Many believe the Thomas Cup victory can do for badminton what the 1983 World Cup triumph did for cricket in India.

Mishra sees that as a fair expectation.

While the Sports Authority of India looks after training and travel, the BAI is recruiting 30 coaches and building half-a-dozen new training centres across the country.

"Winning the Thomas Cup was a dream-come-true, but now begins the tougher task - of maintaining this level," Mishra said.

"We are preparing the next set of players who would be ready to replace the current crop in the next two years."

'IMPETUS'

The BAI has also won approval of the governing Badminton World Federation (BWF) to host two international challengers, Mishra said.

Badminton has earned India an Olympic medal at the last three Games, two of them through PV Sindhu, who also won World Championship gold in 2019.

"We have had success at the individual level but winning the men's team title is huge," Tuhin Mishra, managing director of talent management company Baseline Ventures, told Reuters.

"Sindhu has been doing well in the last five years but we have also seen a big spurt in men's badminton in recent times."

Baseline represents, among others, Sindhu and four of the five players in that Thomas Cup side.

"The media limelight, the praise from the prime minister and his cabinet, those tweets from Bollywood stars and cricketers - this is precisely the impetus badminton needed," Tuhin Mishra said.

At least four brands had been chasing Lakshya Sen, who won World Championship bronze last year and reached the All-England Open final this year, he said.

"This will inspire a new generation of players. BAI has done a good job so far and they must ensure a steady supply of talents who can play at this level."

(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; editing by Nick Mulvenney and Robert Birsel)

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