Gopichand, Bindra, Mary Kom: Superstar academies grooming India’s GenNext
A number of Indian athletes have created venues for prospects to follow in their footsteps.
Former Olympians and champion athletes of the country have been giving back to society by setting up a sports academy in India to strengthen the grassroots and enrich the talent pool. Here are some of the best:
Gopichand Badminton Academy
The dream of establishing the Gopichand Badminton Academy, which has produced shuttlers like PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, Parupalli Kashyap, Kidambi Srikanth and more, was planned long before Pullela Gopichand hung up his racquet in 2003.
The former top-ranked Indian badminton player was gifted five acres of land by the Andhra Pradesh government for winning the 2001 All England Open. And although the dream was set, paving the rest of the way was a herculean task.
Unable to find sufficient monetary support, Pullela Gopichand had to mortgage his house in Hyderabad to fund part of the badminton academy.
“I decided I could not do this running around (to ask people for money). The building was half done but we needed the courts. I had to do something,” Pullela Gopichand, who competed at Sydney 2000 and is current national coach, told India Today.
Today, the academy located at the Outer Ring Road of Gachibowli, Hyderabad, boasts two Olympic medallists, multiple BWF World Championships medallists and numerous Superseries title winners.
A leading institute of sports in India, it focuses on rating talent over commercial interests and offers total scholarships for more than half of its players.
Abhinav Bindra Foundation
While Abhinav Bindra never had to struggle for funding or infrastructure to pursue his dream, he was all too aware of the lack of elite training facilities in India.
“Training in India was always a Plan B for me, but to progress, we needed to make the facilities at home the Plan A for our athletes,” Abhinav Bindra had told Olympic.org.
A gold medallist at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, Abhinav Bindra has taken massive steps towards facilitating Indian athletes with high-quality sports training facilities.
Established in 2009, the Abhinav Bindra Foundation has since opened five Abhinav Bindra Targeting Performance (ABTP) regional centres in Mohali, Delhi, Bengaluru, Bhubaneswar and Pune.
The Sports Authority of India (SAI) – Abhinav Bindra Targeting Performance Centre, located at Bengaluru's Padukone-Dravid Centre for Sports Excellence, is one of the elite sports centres in the country.
It boasts of an Olympic-standard swimming pool, an international size football pitch, 16 badminton courts and a cricket ground amongst many other sports coaching facilities.
The ABTP in Bhubaneswar is known for its elite machines like Walker View, D Wall, Iso Move and more, which reads aspects of an athlete's body and uses data to correct training methods.
Yogeshwar Dutt Wrestling Academy
Before he moved to Delhi, the lack of proper indoor facilities during his formative years severely compromised Yogeshwar Dutt’s preparations during monsoons and winters. It’s not something that the Haryana grappler wanted future generations to endure.
“Athletes get all the things when they attend the national camp but not when they are growing up,” Yogeshwar Dutt observed.
So, the 2012 Olympic-bronze medallist used all his recognition to take a five-year lease on the campus of a defunct engineering college in Gohana, Sonipat, to start his academy.
A believer in nurturing young talent, Yogeshwar Dutt decided to put all the money he earned for his 2014 Asian Games and Commonwealth Games gold medals into refurbishing the hall and hostel rooms of the college.
“Every time I got a cash incentive for winning laurels at the international level, I made it a point to save some of the money for my dream project,” Yogeshwar Dutt told the Hindustan Times.
The Yogeshwar Dutt Wrestling Academy was opened in 2017, and it trains hundreds of talents at the grassroots level today.
Gun for Glory Academy
And even before the rifle shooter went on to win the bronze medal at London 2012, he had set the ball rolling to make shooting as accessible and affordable as possible in India.
“During the 2010 Games, ranges were built and the government had invested in building a formidable team as well, and that investment yielded the best results of the Indian shooting team in any Olympics. There were good foreign coaches, plenty of ammunition, and I can proudly say that I am a product of the system,” Gagan Narang told the Olympic Channel.
“There was always an urge to give back to the system that made me. So, I put in all the prize money that I had earned from the 2010 Commonwealth Games towards making this foundation,” he said.
The Gagan Narang Sports Promotion Foundation (GNSPF) consequently went on to form the Gun for Glory Academy - India’s first privately managed shooting facility.
One of GNSPF’s biggest successes has been ‘Project Leap’, which aims to identify and develop exceptional talents from a selected pool of shooters.
Launched in 2017, the project has produced talents like Elavenil Valarivan, India’s current top-ranked women’s 10m Air Rifle shooter.
The academy also boasts of numerous junior shooters who have represented India at international events and bagged medals.
Spread across 13 cities now, the academy has been conducting talent hunts across India, including in tribal parts, to select and train shooters.
Mary Kom-SAI Boxing Academy
Hence, the Manipuri legend’s challenge was two-pronged - both inside the ring and outside of it. So when she tasted success, Mary Kom knew she wanted to give back to the sport.
When the 2012 Olympics bronze medallist was given 3.3 acres of land by the Manipur state government at Imphal’s National Games Village, Mary Kom set about crowd-funding to build an elite boxing academy.
“I wanted sufficient infrastructure for my boxing academy including separate hostels for men and women, boxing rings, free food, tracksuits, etc,” Mary Kom told The Quint in 2014.
The Mary Kom-Sports Authority of India (SAI) Boxing Academy, founded in 2015, imparts coaching and provides lodging, food and bears costs during tournaments.
Aiming to identify boxing talents between ages 12-18, the academy focuses on physical education and psychological developments.
Mary Kom has always valued education enormously and her academy bears school expenses of the athletes as well. The Mary Kom Regional Boxing Foundation also negotiates with schools based on a kids’ boxing credentials.
“I have a dream - a dream to create many, many more Mary Koms," she stated about her own sports academy in India.
Besides these, there are several other academies run by other Olympians in India which welcome children to train and identify top talents. Here are some of them: