I WAS 12 when I became the inter-house girls’ singles badminton champion at my alma mater – Methodist Primary School in Nibong Tebal, Penang, in 1985.
I still have that little trophy, slightly discoloured but very precious – largely because it was a difficult victory. You had to win serve first before you could even score a point.
That was the original scoring system – 15x3 for men and 11x3 for women. A match could go on and on under that format.
How things have changed. The buzz for a change in the scoring took place in 2001 when the late Datuk Punch Gunalan was vice-president and the then marketing committee chairman of the International Badminton Federation (now known as Badminton World Federation).
I remember clearly the excitement in his voice as he chatted chirpily at the old headquarters in Cheras on the change he wanted to bring, despite the stiff opposition.
He said the classic rules written in 1877 (yes, that’s when badminton started in British India) – had to be scrapped because the matches were getting too draggy – and the newer generation wanted something faster and it had to be television friendly.
Eventually, it was improvised and replaced with the 5x7 format in 2002, still with the old service-over but that did not last long and the world body quickly reverted to the old format in 2003.
One Malaysian player shone in this crazy to-and-fro switch within a year.
Mohd Hafiz Hashim won the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games gold in August, beating teammate Lee Tsuen Seng 7-3,7-1,3-7,7-8,7-4. Seven months later, he defeated Chen Hong of China 17-14,15-10 in the 2003 All-England final, using the reverted old format.
Gunalan and his team, however, did not relent – eventually at the 2006 Thomas Cup Finals, the world body introduced the 21x3 rally, a system which is used until now.
Players like Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan of China thrived under this shortened format. So have the current group of players like Viktor Axelsen of Denmark, Kento Momota of Japan - and even Lee Zii Jia has made his presence felt by winning the All-England last month after beating Axelsen 30-29,20-22,21-9.
Everyone was thrilled to their bones when Zii Jia battled point-for-point against Axelsen to win the opener 30-29. 30 is the maximum point a player can go in a game – a rule that has been in place for the last 15 years.
It was so absolutely exciting – so why are the BWF proposing a change now?
The governing body have proposed for the sport to be played in a best-of-five games of 11 points format (11x5) to “increase excitement” and make the sport even more television- friendly.
Has the sport really lost its appeal so badly that a change is needed?
The statistics don’t seem to say that. Badminton was one of the top five most viewed sports on television during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
In a recent study by Burson Cohn and Wolfe, the BWF were placed top in the 2020 International Sports Federations Social Media rankings.
They were a smashing success having had 155.8k new likes (23% increase), 8.6mil interaction, 392.4 million video views on Facebook; 178k new followers (66.65% increase), 17.1mil interactions, 70.6mil video views on Instagram; 66.1k views per video and 192.3k new subscribers on Youtube.
The proposal to amend the rule book, according to BWF president Poul-Erik Hoyer, came from the All-Indonesia Badminton Association (PBSI) and Badminton Maldives.
That comes as a surprise, as Asians have been against this change as some of them felt the shorter version was something better suited for Europeans.
A vote will be taken during BWF’s virtual annual general meeting on May 22, where positions on executive boards, including president and deputy president will be decided.
If the proposal gets a two-thirds majority, it will be implemented after the Tokyo Olympic Games. The same proposal did not see the light of day when it was first brought up in 2014 and 2018.
Former world champion Axelsen made a good point – have the players been consulted on the proposed change of scoring?
World No. 2 Axelsen hoped the players’ voices would be heard too and took to social media, saying: “Our players’ association should be way stronger and we should stand together and demand that we have a say when it comes to decisions like this one and many others.
“This big decision about the scoring system, it is also not possible for us, as players, to vote.”
The Dane has been vocal against the change in the past due to several reasons.
He felt that by shortening it further and making the game fast and furious, players will be physically challenged in the already punishing game and there could be risk of injuries.
And the life span of player will be shorter and shorter.
Hopefully, the BWF will spare a thought for the players. The game must care for its players most, not its coffers.
I’m game for change but it should benefit all. After all, badminton starts with love all.