Changes needed to guard badminton’s appeal

IT was a delightful sight, a few brightly lit Christmas trees with colourful stars and ornaments welcoming the season of goodwill in the winter of Liuzhou even as the curtain came down on a great badminton feast.

The city had successfully hosted the Super Series Masters Finals - a fitting end to the Badminton World Federation (BWF) calendar.

As promised, the finale of the 12-leg Tour had the world’s top players presenting the fans with some exciting and explosive fare to keep the adrenalin rushing throughout the five-day competition.

The Liuzhou fans were well behaved and showed that they were there for their love of badminton, no matter who was on court.

Denmark’s women doubles shuttlers Christinna Pedersen and Kam-illa Rytter Juhl even threw their racquets to the crowd during the group matches in appreciation of their sporting behaviour and warmth.

Badminton fans elsewhere have not been all that blessed this year. They have been shortchanged in several Super Series events following a spate of late withdrawals and walkovers - especially in crucial all-China ties. There have also been hushed whispers of match fixing, something totally alien to the sport, until now.

In the Singapore Open, four-time world champion Lin Dan was booed for conceding a walkover to Chen Jin in the final. There were several other last minute walkovers involving other China stars as well.

The BWF, aware of the situation, even formed a panel to investigate the matter and some measures were spelt out quite clearly.

For now, though, it has been all talk and no action.

There are several other issues that BWF must look into again to preserve the integrity of the game. The quality of line judging remains a highly contentious matter as are the need for more professional team managers’ meetings and proper scheduling information.

Even Lin Dan has called for the hawk-eye technology, like the one used in tennis, to improve the standard of line judging.

Many also feel that the prize money for the Tour finale should be much higher than that offered in the Premier Series. BWF’s grand finals only offers US$500,000 when South Korea and Indonesia boast purses of US$1.2mil and US$600,000 respectively.

Money should not be an issue as sponsors Osim have provided a huge financial lift to the world body.

Something in the region of US$2mil would have the players fighting tooth-and-nail in every tournament to make sure they become one of the top eight qualifiers for the Masters Finals.

Now, that would be something that even Lin Dan would not want to miss.

BWF’s chief operating officer (CEO) Thomas Lund, the former Danish player, gave an assurance that the world body was doing its best to further lift the profile of the game.

Of course, there are limitations, but it is good to know that they are willing to embrace change.

In fact, in the recently concluded Masters Finals, BWF managed to quickly amend a rule whereby they gave more world ranking points for the third place finishers in the group to make it more competitive. Previously, the last two players in the group earned the same points.

There have been other innovations too, like setting up a new BWF official Chinese website, live streaming and the use of other social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

There is also a new site, Shuttle Time, a cyber resource centre that provides training programmes for teachers and coaches to develop skills and deliver fun badminton for children.

BWF are also taking measures to ensure that the sport remains in the Olympic Games programme by reaching out to the mass.

BWF must remain vigilant and adaptable to change if they are to prevent the game from losing its appeal and popularity.

Hopefully, when the new season starts with the South Korea Open from Jan 3-8, it will be the beginning of a year that will take badminton to greater heights.

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