This article is a little different than the others in this series in that it offers no advice to the individual players (other than perhaps to leave your country), but instead offers up ideas to the organizations. Upon viewing the title of this article I’m sure that already many of you are prepared to start arguing with me. Where you’re from should make no difference whether you’re a good player or not you say, people from even the most remote places have the ability to succeed in badminton. This is true to a point, but it is undeniable that a small handful of countries, and one country in particular, dominate badminton. In no particular order here are the main countries I am referring to:
There are a few other countries that are on the verge of cracking into this exclusive group. England certainly hovers close by, especially in the doubles events. The Netherlands also has some strong players, as do a few Asian countries. However, the five countries listed above no doubt have the most success on the international scene today. China of course stands tall above the other four.
So why is it that these countries have done so well? What is it about these 5 countries? With China it’s obvious, they are a super power like USA, and Russia, and therefore they can pour massive resources into sports, and badminton just happens to be a sport that they have an interest in. They also have a massive population base to choose from, therefore they can funnel the best athletes into their system. This system however has received great criticism from a number of very well respected coaches that I have spoken to in confidence. If China is so successful why do these coaches criticize them? They believe that if China to have a more efficient system of developing talent, that they would be even more dominant. The fact that they aren’t more dominant, compared to a country like Denmark that is a small percentage of the population, may prove this argument.
So what about Denmark then? Less than 6 million people live in this country, and yet they have a strong history of badminton success. I did a Google Maps search for “badminton” in Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, and found dozens upon dozens of badminton clubs. There is sooo much badminton being played in Copenhagen. They have a club league in Denmark that is of an extremely high standard. Players like Tony Gunawan, Roslin Hashim, Nathan Robertson, and many other none Danish players have been flown to Denmark to play in the Danish club league because the teams are that competitive. I’m starting to think about the chicken and the egg here. Which came first, was badminton popular and therefore they became successful at it, or was badminton popular because they had a strong history of success? I’m going to pick a side here actually and wager that popularity is important first because that would indicate a strong base of players. The grassroots is the most important factor in determining lasting high level results, otherwise any success is an anomaly based on one exceptionally talented person. Denmark has an amazing base, and they have an amazing support structure the whole way up the system.
As for Malaysia, Indonesia and Korea, I can’t really make any informed analysis of their situation because I don’t know much about their situations. I can however assume they are similar to China and Denmark in that they are willing to provide extreme support to their athletes who excel in badminton.
I’m from Canada, and we have a wonderful badminton community, but it is quite small compared to these other countries. The majority of people playing here play in private clubs, generally come from better financial backgrounds, and will usually go on to university. This means that badminton is out of the picture once they reach 19 or so. Time to grow up, get an education, and then get a career. The support structures are not in place to support our higher level athletes, and more importantly the structures are not in place to grow the sport at the grassroots levels. This is surely a similar situation to almost every other country out there that isn’t one of the 5 mentioned previously.
Who is going to have a better chance at success in badminton, a young man named David Snider, who at a very young age shows a lot of promise, or a young man named Emil Holst? David won the senior national championships in his country at 19 years of age! Emil Holst would likely get destroyed by his countries top player. The problem for David is that he is from Canada and Emil is from Denmark. David will either have to get very creative, set a new precedent for results, or face near poverty income levels for the duration of his badminton career. Emil will likely have full support from Danish badminton, more money for playing club badminton, and of course sponsorships. Also, Emil lives close to several of the major tournaments, David has to fly across an ocean for everything.
How can countries like Canada, USA, Australia, and others start to excel in badminton? Stop trying to excel in badminton. What? Yes, you read correctly. An analogy for you to consider; Given two different businesses, one that has income of $1 million per year, and one that has income of $100 million per year, how am I going to make these businesses into $1 billion per year companies? The strategies, and tactics you use are going to be VERY different for these two different companies. This applies to sport as well. The tactics we use to develop Indonesia to defeat China are MUCH different than the tactics we use to develop Canada to defeat China. You need to start at the foundation. The major complaint for the development of badminton in Canada is that Badminton Canada must qualify players for the Olympics in order to receive funding. The problem is that by spending money to send players around the world the organization can no longer focus on developing the grass roots of the sport. Badminton Canada is stuck in a cycle that keeps it from getting anywhere. Developing the grass roots of the sport would mean risking not getting funding. But if the sport had more players, and more loyal fans, then perhaps there would be other methods of raising funding for our players? You don’t need to spend lots of money to build up an audience, a following, a grassroots effort. This website is an example of just that concept. Allow me to detail for you the goal of this website if you’re not already familiar.
The goal of this website is to lead the grassroots effort of developing the sport of badminton to the point that it surpasses tennis. I know many people quote a stat that badminton is the second most popular sport in the world. That is garbage. I don’t care if more people play it than tennis, because it sure doesn’t feel that way. I was embarrassed to tell people at my school I played badminton, even though I was bringing home medals at nationals and pan-american championships. This is a shame, because badminton is great. Allow me to share a vision with you, a vision of the life of a professional badminton player in the not too distant future : )
He wakes up, it’s about 8am and he looks out the hotel window at the pool below. In the hotel room in downtown Shanghai. The hotel room phone rings, it’s his manager telling him it’s time to go because the executives from Nike are waiting in the lobby.
In the elevator standing next to him are what seem to be a couple of models. They ask for his autograph, and he obliges. He gets down to the lobby and his manager is laughing as he steps out of the elevator followed by a couple of giddy models. “I wish I could live your life” his manager tells him, and he thinks to himself how they he the perks of being a pro athlete. He walks towards the doors and the Nike executives follow him outside into the car waiting outside. He’s on his way to the stadium for a practice session, followed by a photo session for Nike who are sponsoring the tournament, and of course him. His agent shows up half way through the shoot, on his phone as always, doing the usual highway robbery on Nike and Adidas, using them against each other to drive up the player’s asking price. Contract renegotiation is a bitch.
The tournament goes well, he makes it to the semi finals and loses to some Aussie kid. Talented up and comer, could be something special, but the kid loses to some French guy named Guy, ironic. He flys back to Monaco the next day. Nothing like home right? Nothing like no taxes either. He was happy with the result in Shanghai, but with the French Open coming up soon he really needs to start ramping up his training. He has meetings with his training, his coach, his physio, his sport psychologist, his nutritionist, and agent who apparently has booked him a gig promoting Hugo Boss because some dude name Rhys Meyers was arrested for drug possession, apparently Boss is tired of actors anyway, athletes are so much more reliable.
His coach arranges for a Dutch kid, with amazing flat play, to fly out to Monaco to train with him for the week. The dutch kid is a good sparring partner, especially since he is trying to bring up the standard of his flat play. Much better than the last sparring partner, all he could do was jump smash, so boring. Anyway, French Open rolls around, and he wins. Ecstatic as he is with the $750,000 cheque, he feels a little jealous of the tennis guys, they still make a little more than him : (
As he sits in the first class lounge in Paris airport, waiting to go to Copenhagen, he thinks to himself how much things have changed. The pros are no longer like soldiers in an army, they’re more like mercenaries for hire. Maybe some people miss the days where it was more about national pride, but he frankly feels pretty good about the fact that he gets to play the sport he loves, in front of millions of people, and makes great money doing it.
That’s about the point where I wake up and realize I was dreaming. I think you get the point here. I want badminton to be like tennis. I want it to be hugely popular, and while I don’t know the best way to articulate a mission statement for this website, that little story there should pretty much sum it up for you.