'Colas Are Killing Local Drinks'
Pullela Gopichand is an unusual sportsman whose motto could well be—no fuss, no fizz. The Hyderabad-based reigning All England Badminton champion is refreshingly different from most other sports superstars who have no qualms about endorsing a product as long as it brings them a fat cheque. While some players do say no to liquor and cigarette commercials, few face moral dilemmas when it comes to aerated drinks.
Gopi, however, is an exception. This talented young man with old-fashioned values had no hesitation recently in turning down a soft drink giant even though it meant kissing a lucrative contract goodbye. Gopi says principles are more important to him than money. The five times national champion believes carbonated drinks are bad for health. So, he refuses to have anything to do with them. He didn't hesitate in turning down the offer even though badminton remains a relatively low-paying game both nationally and internationally.
The soft drink company had approached Gopi through his Chennai-based agents soon after he won the All England championship last year but he was quick to turn it down. In keeping with his style, it was a quiet refusal and Gopi made no fuss about the matter. It would have passed largely unnoticed but for local Telegu filmstar Amala Akkineni. She publicised Gopi's "principled stand" when he joined her last Tuesday in supporting the cause of the animal protection group Blue Cross. Savitri Choudhury spoke to him on this and other related issues. Excerpts:
Why did you refuse to endorse the aerated drink?
Personally, I never drink fizzy drinks so I don't want any child to drink one because of me. I am no medical expert but I know soft drinks are unhealthy. I have made it clear to my manager that I will not endorse anything I believe is unhealthy such as cigarettes, liquor or aerated drinks.
Saying no to soft drinks might sound a little extreme to most people.
This has been my stand for over three to four years now and it's something I feel very strongly about. As a result of aggressive marketing by cola companies, people have stopped drinking healthy drinks like fruit juices and people in the villages have actually begun to believe that soft drinks are good for health. Aerated drinks are not only bad for health, they are also bad for local industry. Thanks to aerated drinks, it's becoming more and more difficult to find nimbu sherbet and coconut water.
What did saying no cost you?
It is not ethical for me to go into such details. But, more importantly, when you give up something on principle then you can't weigh it against money. If I think about the cost, it is no longer a principled stand.
Do you make enough money from badminton to afford such a stand?
As compared to cricket or tennis we make much less. The All England, which is the sport's highest-paying tournament, gets you about US $10,000. Winning a local tournament means making about Rs 50,000 to 60,000. But Indian Oil Corporation also employs me, where I am the youngest manager. Besides, I have Yonex as an official sponsor. So yes, even though I may not make as much money as some players at my level in different sports do, I feel what I make is more than enough for me.
Has badminton helped you buy your own house and car?
I drive my own Hyundai Accent and live with my parents in a rented flat. But we are in the process of building a house in Hyderabad's Jubilee Hills where the government has allotted me some land. So, I feel I make enough from badminton to be able to live comfortably without compromising on my convictions.
What are the things that you would want to endorse?
I am a spiritual person and I enjoy meditating.I have strong feelings about Indian culture and promoting our Indian way of life. But that does not mean that I am fanatical about opposing anything western. I don't mind endorsing a good cause or a product as long as it is not unhealthy.
What are the things you enjoy doing?
I love travelling and listening to music—preferably something Indian and something soft. I enjoy meditating too. It began as something I did to improve my on-court skills but now it is a part of my life.