Why did you decide to open your own sports academy?

I’ve always wanted to do something. Ten years ago I thought I could lead, and I’ve always loved a challenge. That’s how I came in double when they said there was no future. I waved… I tried to get state land, but I don’t think that’s possible for a guy like me. I didn’t want to wait any longer. We had to sell one of our houses and invest everything in the academy.

Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa after winning the women’s doubles game in the 16th round of the World Cup 2015 against Japan (Photo: AFP)

Isn’t your academy just for badminton?

No, but we’ll start with badminton. We’ve got 14 ships, it’s a mess.

You say your academy will produce players with character. What does that mean?

I think everyone’s different. I want to elevate her personality and bring her to justice. The examples I can give you are those of tennis. Players like Sanya (Mirza). She’s different, speaks well, understands what’s going on, or like Serena Williams, don’t be afraid, speak like you. As athletes we do not play for the congress, nor for the AAP (Aam Aadmi Party), nor for the BDP (Bharatia Janata Party), we play for the country. Millions of people follow an athlete, (Virat) Kohli or (PV) Sindhu, Sanya, me. It’s our moral responsibility to say things, to have an opinion.

How much is it worth to be open?

That a player of my caliber doesn’t have a Padma Sri. I didn’t get the government land I promised for housing, nor the land I promised my academy.

Do you regret it?

No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. It’s not for me to be sorry. I performed, was targeted several times because of my honesty and (because) I was not accepted at the academy (Gopichands) and did not pay tribute to this man.

What do you think of your role outside the Court as a public figure?

Have an opinion and condemn what is not right, such as rape, violence against women and now violence against students. Why can’t I judge that, even as an ordinary citizen? How does that make me political?

Many athletes have chosen not to publicly express their opinions on these issues.

It’s his fault. I’m sure the day will come when they’ll have to look in the mirror and I’m sure they won’t like it. Just yesterday my friends and I had a healthy conversation. I said in this room that although you know more about politics, I don’t think anyone is as patriotic as me. I’ve been playing for India since I was a kid. I represented India. I’ve always been a proud Indian.

What does nationalism or patriotism mean to you?

I see now that patriotism is a matter of convenience. Okay, I’m in the mood, I’ll be patriotic, I’ll be in front of the movie. You are patriotic when you judge your fellow citizens and fight for them. For me, that’s patriotism. How the army guards the borders for us. That’s patriotism.

In the West, athletes tend to take a stand…

And they’re not described as controversial. Your support isn’t coming back. So far, I’ve pleaded nothing. I never got it. Six or seven years ago I heard about an advertising agency, and that was shocking, because praise is controversial. I can’t keep my mouth shut. I’m supposed to be a good girl, I’m told. The fight for my right is an argument?

Do you get hit a lot?

All the time. My mom’s Chinese, so I get racist remarks. No death threats. The most shocking thing is that I don’t think I’m saying anything political. It’s just sad to see the current situation. Why not? I live in the same country? What’s happening today is not good. When I played badminton, I wasn’t a politician then. I’ve played, played and won. I was always a target, off the team. As an Olympic athlete I had to go to the Supreme Court in Delhi (after the Indian Badminton Federation recommended a lifelong ban for her). So how can an athlete when I’m fully focused on the game? I was number six in the world, with a little more support I could be number one in the world.

You said you were against all governments. What’s changed now?

Ten years ago, social networks were not that important. And then there’s those false accounts and the power of anonymity. I think a lot of people who are disappointed in their own lives come to social networks to abuse them.

Did your friends tell you to keep a low profile and not to respond to every message?

I’ve been killing them for a few months. I am now responsible for the children at my academy. I have to think of her before I think of myself. But I told everyone I couldn’t keep my mouth shut, it’s just not me. Some things affect me.

Like what?

I was so surprised that none of the sportswomen spoke, only Sanya I think, when the rape took place in Katuya. The government supported the suspect. Whatever religion is, it’s a human being, we’re human beings first and foremost. I am an atheist and I called myself an atheist 10 years ago and I got some strange looks.

They were against the Hyderabad police meeting, although some public figures applauded it.

You saw the pressure on the police. I disagree with what happened, but the worst thing is that people are celebrating death. It’s not a happy occasion. We forget these four people are poor, what about their families? They, too, were victims. Where’s the empathy? It surprised me. Are we as a society today so bloodthirsty? Why we came here, here’s my question. What do you mean by justice?

And now, how do you get on the company ladder?

I haven’t announced my resignation, but I don’t see any other player who could play with me. I need to get in shape. I have an academy. I want to be as healthy as I was at the Olympics.

What do you think of India’s chances at the 2020 Olympics?

P.V. Sindhu is the only person we can trust to see the results. Twins, I don’t know if the women will do it.

Bhaviya Dore is a freelance journalist from Mumbai.

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