Lanky Venugopal stands tall in world of badminton after coming full circle


Good memories: Venugopal with Datuk Punch Gunalan during the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games.

PETALING JAYA: The passion in badminton has driven M. Venugopal from being a player to coach-cum-administrator in an extraordinary career spanning five decades.

And at the age of 69, Venugopal, is not planning to slow down any time soon.

Currently, he is the events manager with the Badminton World Federation (BWF) and will reach 20 years in his position next year.

“The passion for the sport has driven me to where I’m right now,” said Venugopal.

“I managed to achieve almost all that I wanted to in badminton. I’m one of the lucky ones to have completed the journey.”

Venugopal’s journey started at the age of 10 when he was inspired by his brother M. Balakrishnan to take up the sport.

Full support: Venugopal (left), who was an official with BWF, assisting Lee Chong Wei who was injured during his match against Denmark’s Peter Gade at the Thomas Cup Finals in Wuhan, China, in 2012. Full support: Venugopal (left), who was an official with BWF, assisting Lee Chong Wei who was injured during his match against Denmark’s Peter Gade at the Thomas Cup Finals in Wuhan, China, in 2012.

“I was an all-round sportsman during my younger age, from athletics, football and field hockey but it was badminton that captivated me the most,” said Venugopal.

“I used to follow and watch my brother play in the open air courts near my home in San Peng, Kuala Lumpur and was fascinated by him leaping and stretching to return the shuttle.

“I was 15 when I decided to take up the sport seriously. I took part in several local competitions and achieved some good results.”

But it was the late Datuk Punch Gunalan that inspired him to take the game to a different level.

“I had an opportunity to watch Datuk Punch’s game live in Stadium Negara. His playing style influenced me to take my game to the next level,” said Venugopal.

“I also watched Datuk James Selvaraj’s game which motivated me to train harder,” he added.

Venugopal during his coaching stint with Mauritius.Venugopal during his coaching stint with Mauritius.

Punch and James then continued to play important roles in Venugopal’s career.

Venugopal, who went on to join the Selangor state team, impressed by toppling several national and back-up players in national competitions and attracted the attention of the officials in the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM).

Punch, who was then the BAM secretary-general, invited Venugopal to join training in BAM but the latter had to turn down the offer due to family commitments.

“Thankfully, God blessed me in other ways. I have no regrets of how my playing career went,” said Venugopal.

“It was very memorable for me to get to meet the greats like Datuk Punch and Datuk James, who were both my seniors.

“Overall, I’m very satisfied with my career and could not have asked for more.”

Venugopal became a coach in Selangor Badminton Association after that and had the opportunity to work with James, who was the vice chairman.

“I was coaching the juniors and then was in charge of the overall development programme in the golden years where SBA produced many players for the national team,” said Venugopal.

“It was great to work under James. He was a great tactician and development consultant. We still keep in touch and he is a family friend now.”

Venugopal then took up a coaching position in Mauritius as part of a government exchange programme and fulfilled his dream of guiding two players to the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games where badminton was officially contested for the first time.

“Badminton was only the seventh or eighth ranked sport in Mauritius and I helped to elevate it to third or fourth in two years,” said Venugopal.

“It was not easy as I had to revamp the entire training programme and guide a young team but I was fully supported by the sports ministry.

“Guiding two players (men’s and women’s singles) to the Olympics was a dream come true for me.”

After five and a half years in Mauritius, the National Sports Council (NSC) called Venugopal back and appointed him as the project manager for the 1998 Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games.

“It was the first time that Malaysia hosted such a large scale international event and it was a huge project for me,” said Venugopal.

“In the NSC, our main task was to oversee the athletes’ training programme. Malaysia achieved the ten gold medal target set during the Games.

“I went on to serve in the NSC’s international department for 15 years and looked after the high performance athletes.

“It was a memorable journey for me to work with the country’s top athletes.”

Venugopal also offered his services to assist the Kuala Lumpur Badminton Association (KLBA).

“In 1996, Datuk Punch invited me and I was elected as the vice president in KLBA and was looking after coaching and training,” said Venugopal.

“Later, I became the secretary general until 2001. During this period, l served as a BAM council member and was the BAM coaching and training committee secretary.

“It was a great moment working with the states in developing the players and also technical officials. Nowadays, there are a lot of clubs and academies but during my time, BAM depended a lot on the states to produce players.”

Venugopal recalls his time working with the much loved Punch as one of the most memorable in his life.

“Datuk Punch was a genius, who looked ahead of time,” said Venugopal.

“He was innovative and had great foresight. Working with him was really a great learning curve.

“I joined him in the Asian Badminton Confederation (now called Badminton Asia) in 2001 and was the development manager. It was a different challenge for me as it was more towards developing the sport in weaker nations.”

Venugopal then moved to BWF in 2005 where he was appointed as Events and Development Manager.

“I focused on managing tournaments like the World Championships, Thomas and Uber Cup Finals and Sudirman Cup,” said Venugopal.

“I have to coordinate with the hosts and make sure the tournaments run smoothly.”

Venugopal’s next big mission with BWF will be the 2024 Paris Olympics.

“We have been busy preparing for the OIympics. There are other tournaments as well leading up to Paris,” said Venugopal.

“I’m expecting an exciting show with all the top players fighting for the gold medals.”

On his thoughts on how the sport has evolved over the years, Venugopal said: “The game has become explosive now.

“Every five to 10 years, it’s changing and now it’s so fast. Even some of the players find it difficult to cope,” he said.

“You can see players diving here and there to return the shuttle which you don’t see much during my time. Even the women’s singles and doubles are faster now. Due to technology, there will definitely be more changes in the future.”

FACTFILE

Name: M. Venugopal

Age: 69

Place of birth: Kuala Lumpur

Current position: Badminton World Federation (BWF) events manager (since 2005)

Player: Represented Selangor state team and was called up to national team but had to turn down due to family commitments

Coaching career:

*Selangor state junior coach and managed development programme under Datuk James Selvaraj

*Mauritius coach and technical director for five and a half years and guided two players to the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games

Administrator

*Kuala Lumpur Badminton Association (KLBA) vice president and secretary general

*Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) council member and coaching and training committee secretary

*Project manager of 1998 Commonwealth Games and 2001 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur

*National Sports Council (NSC) international department in charge of high performance

-*Badminton Asia development manager

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