What Separates The Best From The Rest: Nationality

On September 16, 2009, in Instructional, by Emmet Gibney

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:

China
Denmark
Malaysia
Indonesia
Korea

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.

16 Responses to What Separates The Best From The Rest: Nationality

  1. marc says:

    couldn’t agree with you more about canada. we are a hockey country. that about sums it up. Until recently, there were few venues for badminton in Vancouver, except for the ‘private clubs’ you mentioned. But now there are several places to play in Richmond. But I have noticed that the majority of players are asians which probably comes as no surprise. We need more local tournaments and interests. And here’s an insight that you might find interesting. Among the asian community here, i don’t think you will find many parents that will encourage a career in badminton for their children. Sure, they will expose them to the sport as part of a healthy lifestyle, hobby, interest, even getting them some coaching. But for Canadian immigrants, badminton is not a ‘money’ sport, so career is not an attractive option. And should their child have some talent, they would more likely pluck them out of the ‘Canadian’ system and bring them back home for some ‘serious’ training. And having watched how the Chinese train, I doubt if any of the kids here in Canada can withstand the rigours.

  2. victor antsiferov says:

    -Hi to you, the friend-in-badminton!In 1990 I had met your canadian coach seeking a head coach for your junior National Team.It was during the Europian Championship.20 years had hassed. H-m-m Well , to the point.For reaching our common goal- to became for badminton the same level of financial prosperity alike tennis or hockey or soccer maybe…I think so 1/ have an endless patience 2/ to find out the exceptional idea / of Microsoft level /3/ the charismatic leader 4/ the will to Victory .This my modest opinion. Regards Victor

  3. Sangeeta says:

    its disheartening to know India is not on the list :), however though our country is caught up in world class cricket, i do find interst of people growing for badminton that too across ages, it amusing to see doctors nearing theirs 60s play!, our problem is poor infrastrucutre….you will find more fitness centres around but very few sports facilites or grounds…it will take time for things to change…I have develop interest in badminton at the age 0f 30 and have become an addict :)…I have befrieded a 20 year old college student to coach me….cuz we dont have good full time coaches around… i m realy happy to come across this site and will share it with my badminton group.

  4. krishsavi says:

    Indeed i strongly agree your words, how come india is not in the list.

    Saina is one of the top players we have seen today and the sport is on the top list.

    We lack in the form of infrastructure, that too these days fulfilled by young entrepreneurs in form of part time business and we do see lot playing badminton professionally with many tournaments and SUNRISE has opened up exclusive show rooms in India.

    BTW where are you Sangeeta..

  5. Emmet Gibney says:

    I definitely agree that Saina is an amazing player, and India has had a small number of players like her in the past (Gopichand, Padukone) but only the countries in the list consistently produce top players that consistently produce results. Even Gopichand was only able to win one big title. I think as India becomes more prosperous as a country in general, that their badminton will also improve greatly. Perhaps in a few more years India will be included in the list ;)

  6. Toby says:

    I think with Canada, we really lack team events. We may play for a certain club or badminton center, but there is never really any competition where you have to represent your club/center as a team. Every highly competitive tournament in Canada is very individual, making badminton a very individual sport. For the sake of the little funding we get, we are competing against each other more than trying to build a good National Team. If we really base funding on the results at the National Championships only, then we will be stuck having different members with funding probably every year. I don’t want to get away from the topic, but there seems to be a lot more unity in other countries. That way, those countries can strive to win International tournaments for their country. Here, it feels like we are only trying to win Nationals for ourselves. We don’t even have a National training center, so that does speak quite a lot to what I am saying. I guess it seems inevitable.

    Anyway, about my point on team events… if we have more team events, we could get more sponsors. It’s a lot easier to sponsor a team/club/center instead of individual players. The closest thing to team events are in high school and college badminton. Unfortunately, because they are so school oriented, it would take away from or restrict the full-time badminton players. For example, in Korean and Japan, they have “company teams” where athletes can contract and play for a certain company. The companies actual pay the athletes salary and provide training. In Canada, if you play for a club/center, YOU pay the club/center and represent them in a similar way. It’s a little backwards, but maybe that’s why funding and sponsorship are so poor in Canada.

    Without team competitions and without team unison, I think it brings a very critical problem: Everyone in Canada has their own idea of producing that world-class player. Since there is no system in place here for creating that athlete, they are hell bent on doing things their way to see if they can succeed. In theory, if they succeed, everyone should go to them. That’s probably why Canadians can’t compete with other countries. They are too fixated on competing against themselves…

  7. ARUN says:

    Hi all..!!…its really fascinating to see the players from these countries playing amazingly. They are so well-trained and have been given full opportunity to improve skills.. But sadly, India is still so crazy about cricket only, that other sports still remain like a strange one to more than half of the population here. I’m already 26yrs old now, I had been dreaming of becoming a pro in badminton since I was only 16yrs. I have participated in few tournamnets but won none. I could not get a proper coach nor a trainer. And India, we hardly have any facilities or scope in other sports, rather we have vast proportion of cricket field compared to other courts or field for other sport. Still, I’ve a great aspiration to take badminton as my professional carrier. I would like to more on this website and find more chance of entering into the world of pros.

  8. Lud says:

    Hi All,
    In a nutshell, I think the following must happen to popularise badmintotn and bring it to the status of tennis or even better…
    1. BWF to have major events ie Thomas cup but it must be the scale of the Football World Cup whereby it is held for 2 weeks to a month and invovles at least 32 countries of all continents. This mean that BWF need to source for some major sponsors and supporters.
    2. Secondly the prize money for all the super series and gold series must be big. Big enough for a person to be a millionaire if he/she manage to win more than 5 super series in a year just like the Grand Slams of tennis. This means more major sponsors.
    3. Thirdly BWF should enlist the help of ex-international to be coaches in countries that are weak in badminton.
    4. Just like tennis, there should be junior tournaments for all the super series events. Again, prize money must be big.
    5. BWF must work closely with the media to make every badminton player a superstar. There must also be a regular telecast of all the super series matches on a weekly basis even though it is a delayed telecast just like in football.
    6 BWF must encourage media to publish magazines on badminton and make it compulsory for all players to be featured in the magazine.
    7 For poor countries, funds should be provided to build courts and provide equipments on top of coaching by ex international.
    8. BWF should organize badminton clinics after every badminton events for budding shuttlers to get pointers and also sparring opportunity with international players.

    9. The rest is up to the goverment of their own countries.
    These are my hunble comment. It looks like all has to do with BWF but that is the reality. Once the prize money is good, every one would jump into the bandwagon to pour money into it from parents right to the government.

  9. Muhammad Shahizzat says:

    hi to you all, i agree with all of your opinion, and i believe every word stated down by all of you were come by the experiece it self. But one thing, on your childhood its very hard to play badminton because its too costly

  10. Arunkumar says:

    Nice to see the collective interest in Badminton …
    One point that is missing is Media!
    If the media give the publicity every thing else comes automatically…
    The media is the reason for cricket being an obsession in India and similarly the popularity of Badminton in China…
    Get Television coverage for the major Badminton tournaments – show it live around the world and then the sponsors will come in.

  11. mathieu says:

    how about australia, we dont have real aussie players in the top 20 or 50, but we have heaps of immigrant coming mostly from asia so i think that it is really good for the sport ;)

  12. Mikael says:

    Badminton is also about IQ, but which kind? In my use of IQ it is not just about a simpel test or withborn genes, it also about culture concerning how people learn in school and so forth!

  13. Jerome Gomez says:

    In regards to the statement made by Lud – of course BWF should take the lead and do more – and get more media involved. However the real problem we have is to have more growth at the grassroots – and how is that to happen when there are very few or sometimes no indoor facilities available for indoor sports – while politicians talk about the problems with obese people and their so called encouragement of sport – but there is very little action.
    With regard to BWF and publicity – when the World Championships were played in the US(just outside Disneyland), and the American doubles pair got into the finals – and even won the finals – where was the publicity, even in the US for this great achievement. If the BWF and Pan American Federation could not get publicity then, how would they ever get enough media attention to get Badminton to grow.

  14. Robbie.au says:

    Talk more about badminton, lobby for more funding with your local member, wear badminton apparel not another sport, write articles for newspapers about badminton. When the shuttle starts flying be prepared to up the level to keep pace. If you intend to play for a lifetime, prmote for a life time.
    But what about right now, right here?
    Don’t be shy or scared to to say you play badminton. Tell and blog whenever you can about badminton to a broad audience. Write a stor for yor local paper today.
    Get you team cool apparel which has great designs. You need to start somewhere, and it must start with you.
    All us players know it is a great sport and lots of fun.
    Your friends will too when you speak with confidence and support of your sport.

  15. vincent says:

    As a Malaysian, I can shed some light on the deteriorating standards of Malaysian Badminton.
    The greatest obstacle here is politics, in terms of government policies and politics in the badminton governing body. Meritocracy is not given due recognition, race and religion are. One has to be extremely talented like Lee Chong Wei only can silence all, otherwise, if the talented ones needed to be nurtured further but has no special connection with “certain parties”, he will not be selected.

  16. bhupal says:

    Great work guys,
    Lets hope the days will not be very far
    when badminton will equally be popular as any other tennis game.

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