National badminton champion Gourab Singha has climbed to the top of national rankings, but the limitation of training facilities, quality coaches and lack of competitions have confined him within a certain boundary of progress.
The 17-year-old became champion in badminton's singles event in the recently-concluded Bangabandhu 9th Bangladesh Games to add another feather to his crown, his third title at senior level following the national championships title in 2019 and the summer badminton title in 2018.
Like Gourab, Ayman Ibn Zaman had emerged champion from nowhere in the 8th Bangladesh Games in 2013 and dominated the domestic circuit but struggled at international level. Ayman later withdrew himself from the discipline to concentrate on studies for a better future due to lack of facilities, lack of opportunities at domestic and international competitions and poor financial return.
The question is whether Gourab will follow the footsteps of Ayman before fully blooming as conflicts among the shuttlers and officials, boycott of national camp and allegation of sexual harassment against a couple of federation officials have thwarted the growth of the game.
"To be honest, there is no lucrative prize money in any domestic tournaments but a player like me needs at least Tk 20,000 to 25,000 for preparation for any tournament, whether it is a ranking tournament or a national championship," Gourab told The Daily Star. "Yet I can manage to play in domestic competitions and for the national team because I earn handsome money from outdoor tournaments arranged by local organisers in different districts from December to February each year."
"Badminton players survive by playing outdoor tournaments across the country," said the 11th-grader, hinting that a mid-level player can earn from Tk 15,000 to 35,000 for every match while a top-level player like him earns Tk 8 to 9 lakh per year.
Gourab, however, informed that the current ad-hoc committee of Bangladesh Badminton Federation (BBF) is organising more tournaments than before where the champion in men's singles event gets Tk 40,000 thousand, a rewarding return for local players as no premier league was held in the country in last five to six years.
Gourab grew up watching former national players like Suman, Parash, Enamul, Khaled, Dulal in a local tournaments in Sylhet. He wanted to have his name on the back of his jersey just like the then champion Enamul Haque had his.
"I started playing badminton in 2012 under my uncle Chandra Shekhar, the father of shuttler Mangal Singha, before taking coaching from the Sylhet Badminton Academy from 2014. Now I am training at Badminton House of Sylhet," said Gourab, who has had some success at international junior level in singles, doubles and mixed events.
"My dream of wearing the national jersey came true. Now I want to qualify for the Olympics, which I have been wanting since I saw Lee Chong Wei, three-time Malaysian Olympic silver medallist, in the 2012 London Olympics," said Gourab. "To realise this dream, I have to increase my world ranking by playing tournaments and I also need a long-term plan and help from the federation."
"We have the ability to challenge foreign opponents till 17, 18 points but afterwards we can't perform well because we are trained by local coaches while the foreigners get better coaches or are trained in academies," Gourab said. "If we are given long-term training under foreign coaches, we can also improve significantly and deliver good results at international tournaments. I got training under a Malaysian coach for only two months and as a result produced good results in Sunrise-Yonex Junior International Series in Bangladesh in 2018."