I miss international badminton, I miss the joy and stress of watching Anthony on court, I miss writing previews for this blog, I miss chatting about matches on Twitter and of course I miss TAI Tzu Ying.
A gathering storm: Wuhan in January then Italy in February led us to a covid-denying Britain in March. The All England went ahead after huge efforts by everyone at Badminton England to provide a safe environment for everyone involved. Thank God that work was largely successful albeit that there were reports that a young member of the Taiwan team had tested positive for the disease.
Walking away from the arena in Birmingham after watching TAI Tzu Ying nail her third Yonex All England title I never would have predicted that it was the last tournament I’d enjoy of any note for six months. Six months!
So, the stakeholders in the badminton community have found themselves in some sort of limbo. It seems to a large proportion of badminton fans that there has been no overarching strategy to protect the sport from the effects of this long layoff. Indoor sports have uniquely tricky circumstances to address but we have all seen top quality tournaments staged nationally in many countries so they do seem to be able to overcome these problems to the satisfaction of players and staff.
No one in power has shared any sort of vision for the short-term and so we have wildly different approaches from different nations. Of course, none of us has had to run a global sport during a pandemic before however I see some of the national associations striving to give their athletes and fans a temporary way forward. In Asia we’ve enjoyed a series of home tournaments, notably in Indonesia, Korea & Malaysia. The Chinese domestic league has given it’s superstars some seriously testing games and in Europe there have been demanding ‘home tests’ in Denmark. The Taiwan Sports Authority staged a Mock Olympics in order to keep their athletes on their toes and the sports-loving public entertained.
Badminton’s reactivation was supposed to happen in October with the Thomas & Uber Cups in Aarhus plus a Danish Masters and a Danish Open in Odense. Cracks appeared in this plan once key nations started to withdraw: Taiwan, Korea and then mighty Indonesia all citing safety concerns. The BWF decided to trim its ambitions and has abandoned everything bar the Open. Social media channels have erupted with disappointment and criticism directed mainly at the governing body; our community is desperate to get tournaments back on the agenda but not at any price. As an observer it is just not clear what the BWF has been doing to reassure competitors that its safety protocols are the strictest possible.
We just seem to ricochet between disappointments at the moment. At time of writing the Open is still going ahead but with Malaysia, China, Thailand & Indonesia missing. My thoughts go out to the Danish organisers who have been blown in the wind by events and decisions they have no hope of influencing.
So here we stand. A weakened Open in prospect followed by 3 back-to-back tournaments in Thailand in January and then a crammed calendar in the run-up to the Olympics. Only the sunniest optimist could see this going ahead without a hitch – the situation is so volatile.
What bothers me most about the place we find ourselves in is the apparent disconnect between the BWF and the badminton community AND the clear lack of lessons learned from other sports. We have seen others successfully implement bubble systems, tough testing regimes and hygiene protocols so why not badminton? Players cannot be expected to stay motivated and focused indefinitely with no reassurance about their future. Some fans may be satisfied with reruns of old matches but the majority will want new contests and so the danger is they will turn their attention to other sports which have restarted successfully like the Premier League, IPL and Motor Racing. Now is the time to have a clear vision for the short and long-term well-being of the game otherwise we risk losing a generation. Who will step up?
If you enjoyed reading this here is my acount of TAI Tzu Ying’s appearance in Taiwan’s Mock Olympics https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/08/03/tai-tzu-ying-and-taiwans-mock-tokyo-olympics/ or this one which is a fictional account of the Women’s Doubles final at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/08/27/2020-imagined-olympic-finals-womens-doubles/
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