Badminton

Published: Wednesday May 21, 2014 MYT 11:10:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday July 30, 2014 MYT 2:24:19 PM

Ruling the courts

IT is not an understatement to call Malaysians badminton-crazy. We simply are.

It’s an easy deduction because badminton scores the highest readership for StarSport online and that's thanks to Lee Chong Wei and his comrades.

Yet, not many notice the surroundings of that 14.723m x 6.1m court, or the umpires and service judges.

At last month's World Junior Championships, StarSport got a chance to get up close to some of the dedicated men and women who devote their time to a sport they clearly love.

Despite their stern exterior during matches, we found the umpires to be friendly and upbeat, with interesting stories to share.

Freek Karel Mathieu Cox, 40, from Utrecht, Netherlands

Interesting fact: An account manager for an IT company in Netherlands, Cox stands at a commanding 200cm! He claims his height comes in handy during matches – who wants to mess with an umpire of that height?

Dutch umpire Freek Karel Mathieu Cox flanked by Armenian shuttlers Knarik Margayan (left) and Lilit Poghosyan.
Dutch umpire Freek Karel Mathieu Cox flanked by Armenian shuttlers Knarik Margayan (left) and Lilit Poghosyan.

How did you get started as an umpire? And how long have you been doing it?

I was born with a muscle problem and to fight the disease, they advised me to start playing badminton and I did. But in the end, the disease won and I lost. But I still love the game and after that I was asked to become a club umpire and that's how it all began.

What are you most afraid of when stepping on the court?

Nothing really. But if I have to answer, I would say something that happens outside of my control … like maybe a spectator running onto the court.

Which do you prefer, being an umpire or a service judge and why?

For me, it depends on the match. In some matches it is very important to have a strong service judge because all players serve on the edge and one has to keep a close eye to prevent wrong serves. In other matches, especially in a singles event, the service judge does not have a lot to do and it's much nicer to be an umpire.

Who has been your most memorable player to umpire?

I really liked watching Paul-Erik Hoyer play. Most of the time, he was a perfect gentleman both on and off court. If you were a line judge and you made the wrong decision, he'd accept it. But the next four or five points to follow would all be his! He was very focused and was one of the very few who was able to up the momentum after something negative.

What excites you the most about umpiring a championship? And what is the stressful part of it?

Well, I don't like it when players intentionally delay play. Malaysia is the 50th country I'm umpiring in so it's just amazing to get to do what we do.

Lastly, what do you say to the players after a match?

Well, to the losers I say “Well played” and to the winners I say “Congratulations”.

Italian Fabio Betto started out as a rugby referee.
Italian Fabio Betto started out as a rugby referee.

Fabio Betto, 40, from Bari, Italy

Interesting fact: Betto started out as a rugby referee and still officiated matches on the weekends. He is an architect by profession.

How did you get started as an umpire?

I started by being a rugby referee and officiated matches but it was not something I got to do on Sundays. So, I really wanted to become an umpire and I sent applications to 20 sports associations asking them if they needed umpires and only badminton called back! I think it was fate and I’ve been doing it for 11 years now.

What are you most afraid of when stepping on the court?

I would be afraid to be an umpire and lose the shuttle in the middle of the match. In the doubles competition it’s much harder to keep track of the shuttle and if something happens then you’re in trouble.

Which do you prefer, being an umpire or a service judge?

An umpire definitely. It’s much more enjoyable and like I said before, service judging is quite stressful, you don’t get to enjoy the game very much.

What has been your most memorable match to umpire?

It was right here in Malaysia in 2012. It was the quarter-final match of the Malaysian Open between Lee Chong Wei and Indonesia's Taufik Hidayat. I was very proud to have umpired Taufik’s last game at the tournament. It was a really good match and we had a lot of fun.

What excites you the most about umpiring a championship? And what is the stressful part about it?

Well, aside from doing our job, I think the other best thing is that we get to visit so many different countries and spend time and catch up with so many of the umpires from all over the world who are now our friends. It’s like one big family gathering. And for me, Malaysia has been one of the best places I have visited along with Holland, New Zealand and France.

What do you say to the players after a match?

Well, to the winners I say “very good match”, “very well done” or “congratulations”. To the losing player, it’s tough you know. I try to be positive. Sometimes I just shake their hand. I like to give them eye contact and say “very well done” or “you should be proud of this match”.

Carol Ui Fhearghail, 55, from Dublin, Ireland

Interesting fact: Ui Fhearghail probably has the most unique name of all the umpires. She is a retired medical secretary, and her husband jokes that umpiring has become her full-time job. She’s rarely seen without her shiny black wedge shoes during matches!

How did you get started as an umpire?

I’ve been doing it for 19 years and one month to be exact! I played a little badminton, wasn’t very good and I asked to do umpiring instead.

What are you most afraid of when stepping on the court?

Falling over the TV camera or cables when we get on court especially during a final! And dropping the coin when I do the toss with the players!

What has been your most memorable match to umpire?

I like it all, every match. Each match is difficult and I think the one that has stuck with me is the London Olympic finals in 2012 with the Chinese girls Li Xuerui and Wang Yihan in the women’s singles. It went all the way to three games … amazing match!

What excites you the most about umpiring a championship?

Well, the good part of the job is that I get to come in and meet all my friends and see the best badminton on court and have good times off it. And seeing all the different people, culture and food. Besides, my son lives in Thailand, so it’s nice to come and visit Asia so I can just pop by and see him too!

Takahiko Tsujinaka (second from left) with other BWF umpires at last month's World Junior Championships.
Takahiko Tsujinaka (second from left) with other BWF umpires at last month's World Junior Championships.

Takahiko Tsujinaka, 49, from Tottori City, Japan

Interesting fact: Tsujinaka teaches English in a secondary school and enjoys fishing every weekend. It’s been 14 years since he became a BWF umpire.

How did you get your start in umpiring?

I got my start during the Asian Games in Hiroshima in 1994. I actually joined the Games to help the badminton event as an interpreter. At that time there were only four international umpires in Japan and that made me decide to become an international umpire. Now, I am one of the 11 umpires in Japan.

What are you most afraid of when stepping on the court?

I think for the first five years as an umpire, I often got nervous when stepping on the court. I’d be anxious about what I should do if I made mistakes or if players did not follow my decision, among other things. But now, when stepping on the court, I try to say to myself, “Enjoy the game. I am the best judge.” That makes me so relaxed and I feel comfortable on court.

Which do you prefer, being an umpire or service judge and why?

I prefer being an umpire because as an umpire, I can enjoy controlling a match. It depends on my own decision whether a match will be exciting or boring. Always I enjoy the game, especially keeping eye contact with a service judge or other line judges, sometimes smiling at each other. Being relaxed like this makes it possible for me to concentrate on what’s going on at the game.

What has been your most memorable match to umpire?

It was the final of the men’s team event at the 2009 East Asian Games. It was the men’s singles between China and Korea, in the final game with the score being 20-all. The Korean player rushed to the net and tried to hit the shuttle. Instantly I called “fault” when I saw his racquet slightly touch the net. The Korean player didn’t agree, shouting “no, no”. The Korean spectators were also shouting and arguing. But the replay was shown and I was relieved to see that the player’s racquet did indeed touch the net.

What excites you the most about umpiring a championship?

I definitely enjoy umpiring at the final of any BWF tournament, including Super Series, GP Gold, whether senior tournaments or junior tournaments. Before the final, I get nervous and anxious, but after the match, shaking hands with players makes me feel as if I were in heaven, experiencing a sense of achievement. That makes me feel like umpiring again at the final of another tournament. No matter how stressful the umpiring is, I feel it is worth it!

What do you say to the players after a match?

Usually I say nothing to the player after the match, because some referees suggest that umpires don't say anything after the match. But sometimes, players tend to speak to us. In that case, I say, “Good game,” or ” You did your best, never mind,” or “see you at the final of the next year tournament”.

Susan Taylor (second from front) started umpiring at the age of 14.
Susan Taylor (second from front) started umpiring at the age of 14.

Susan Taylor, 50, from Victoria, Australia

Interesting fact: Susan was a former secondary school teacher and got a really early start umpiring at age 14! She gave up her teaching career to concentrate on her family. Her son and daughter aren’t keen on badminton, preferring athletics, swimming and Australian Rules Football!

How did you get into umpiring?

It was in 1979 and my state was hosting the national junior teams and most umpires were not available during the day due to work. And I was one on the juniors recruited to undergo an umpire's course after these championships. So, I was 14 when I passed my first level! And in 1994 I became an IBF (now BWF) accredited umpire. So I have just completed 20 years as an international umpire!

What scares you the most about it?

I am most afraid of making an error that will cost a player the match. Many of our calls are judgmental and based on fact. If we get it wrong a player may lose the match, their sponsorship and qualification to further events. So it is so important to be rested, relaxed and prepared for every match that you officiate.

Which match sticks in your mind the most?

There have been many but none really stick out individually. There was my first world juniors in Kuala Lumpur in 1994. I remember umpiring the boys doubles semi-final where Peter Gade was playing and won. Many people think of him only as a singles player. Then there was also the 2000 Sydney Olympics. I remember my match for the wrong reasons – Mia Audina played singles and finished the match in seven minutes. I still can't believe how quick it was!

What excites you the most about umpiring a championship?

I am excited about seeing the best matches. That's probably the reason I have stuck to umpiring. I enjoy watching great badminton. The umpire's chair is the best seat in the house. I like to see players progress from junior to senior ranks and then to meet them again years later as coaches or managers. Then there is also the travelling, long working days, and sharing a room with a colleague who may be a complete stranger. But of course I dislike being away from family.

Lastly, what do you say to the players after a match?

After the match sometimes I congratulate them on great play, other times I say nothing. Sometimes, if I want to have a quick word about their behaviour, the best time is when I hold their hand but never when a microphone is on!

Tags / Keywords: badminton, BWF, Badminton World Federation, umpire

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