Archive for August, 2012

A Rare Occurence

I am currently at the Polish Open just outside Lubin in Western Poland. In all my years travelling with badminton I have never seen a 21-0 scoreline.

This happened today in the second round of the women’s singles where Laura Vana of Estonia beat Lithuanian youngster Gabija Narvilaite in two games.

To be fair to Narvilaite she came up against a much more powerful opponent in Laura who looks to be in great shape at the start of the new season. The Lithuanian herself had already won her opening game in two sets so she had a win under her belt in the tournament so by no means was an easy pushover. On this occasion she just did not have the power to trouble Vana and Laura had her mentally beaten after a 21-8 victory in the opening game.

21-0 was certainly a first for me.

Wallwork wins last time out in Poland

It is hard to believe that the Olympic badminton tournament took place almost a month ago. Life goes on and for many of Europe’s players the beginning of the new season could not come soon enough.

A hard summers training firmly behind them and the anticipation and the opportunity to put all the hard work into practise has finally come. The Badminton Europe circuit heads to Poland this week for the Polish Open at Lubin which lies about 80km north of Wroclaw. You will remember Wroclaw as a pivotal European Championship soccer venue this summer as well as host city to the Polish International badminton tournament back in March.

For me it is time to dust down the suitcase after the summer break and head back onto the European tour again as part of the BE & BEtv crew. The next month will see me making trips not only to Poland but also to Belgium and to the Czech International in Brno.

The tournament in Lubin is an International Series rated tournament and I love these events as it gives me the opportunity to see some experienced players in action as well as the emerging talent from around Europe.

Of particular interest to me this week is the new partnership of Andy Ellis and Jenny Wallwork. After both just missed out on the London Olympics they will be looking forward to this new season more than most. Wallwork’s last visit to Poland back in March ended in victory alongside former mixed partner Nathan Robertson in what proved to be Robertson’s last visit to the top of the podium in his illustrious career.

Much has also being said about the emerging talent that is Delphine Lansac from France. I saw her play at the European Team Championships and was impressed by her application to the game. With the imminent retirement of Pi Hongyan a lot of pressure will fall on the shoulders of the young French girl so I am really looking forward to see how she handles the pressure of a senior tournament.

So its bag packing time once again and I cannot wait to get to get back into the thick of it on tour. Nothing like doing a job you love to do!!

You can read my Polish Open preview on the Badminton Europe website by clicking HERE. To view the BEtv trailer just click HERE

Belgian Professionalism

Now that the dust is has started to settle on what was probably one of the greatest Olympic Games in history, global thoughts immediately turn to ‘making hay while the sun shines’ in all Olympic sports.

The negative attention that badminton received during the games was, at the time, difficult to stomach but since returning home my opinion on the matter has changed and I can now grasp the concept of there is no such thing as bad publicity.

All I am asked about since I came home are the incidents of the match manipulation that I witnessed firsthand. Of course I am happy to talk about and discuss what went on in Wembley as it is important to do so but I soon realised that I could also use the opportunity to promote the sport on the back of these discussions.

Under normal circumstances I would never get asked about badminton at home so in some weird way it has been refreshing to discuss what happened and to use the opportunity to explain all the good things about the game.

In a strange twist of fate the happenings in London has somehow enhanced the image of the sport.  Let’s not forget that in Europe especially Badminton had gained the reputation as being a sport for people who don’t play real sport (the words of a friend of mine that made me giggle). Not anymore, suddenly now people see badminton as a sport with ‘balls’, a sport where people will do anything to win. All of a sudden the sport has gained a ‘bad boy’ reputation and no matter what way we look at it a ‘bad boy’ always gets attention.

So what can we do now to piggyback off this new found global interest?  It is my personal opinion that the game does need to adapt to make it more TV friendly and to reach out to a new audience. This is of course easier said than done and there are no quick fixes.

But there are some small changes that I think we can introduce to maybe make the sport more spectator friendly. Many complain about the new rally point scoring system, I was one of those initially. Over time I have come to like the new system but I do think it needs some tweaking.

Schools Schools Schools

For me personally sport should build to a climactical conclusion. So many great badminton matches have been ruined by a serve into the net handing the match win to an opponent. This is such an anti climax in my opinion. A simple solution to this is to add a ‘you must have serve to win a game’ rule.

Picture the scenario, Billy Backhand is leading 20-17 in the third game and his opponent Sammy Smash has serve. Sammy is feeling the pressure and serves into the net but under the new rule (MP001) Billy does not win the match but instead receives serve back. OK the purists will be getting sick into their shuttle tubes at the very thought but this does serve, excuse the pun, to build the excitement and Billy’s reward is he now has the opportunity to serve for the match.

In a situation like this the tension and excitement builds with each rally. The guy behind always has the chance to come back and more importantly the match will end, more times than not, in an exciting and engaging way for the public.

Added to this I would also like to see number of games in a match change from 3 sets to 21 to maybe 5 sets to 11. This again will always give the underdog the opportunity to come back and heighten the excitement for the paying public.

We also, in my opinion, need to direct more of our attention to schools rather than clubs. I am not sure of how the system works in your region but here in Ireland and many countries around Europe the club system is king. Of course clubs are so important but with clubs all you tend to nurture is like minded badminton people. We need to get out into the schools more and introduce badminton to those who have never seen or heard about the sport. Get the kids playing in school then in time they will automatically drift towards a club anyway.

Here is an interesting statistic for you. In Ireland 98% of all schools have badminton courts. From my own loose research over the past 5 years 80 of these courts are never used. The markings on the floor just came as standard markings when the gym or hall was initially constructed. Sounds depressing I know but on a positive note, these schools have courts now let’s get the kids using them!

TV lights set the mood

The BWF will obviously have its hands full over the coming months dealing with the fallout from London and there are so many issues that they will class as higher priority which I can fully understand. To the BWF’s credit they have introduced new and exciting initiatives such as ‘shuttle time’ in the past year and their presentation of all the top tournaments on their streaming channel I have to say is first class. Just the way the tournaments are presented with a global consistency is so professional and vitally important. We must continue with this presentation of the game at the highest level.

If we are going to make big investments in online streaming the first thing to make sure is that the courts being streamed are set up professionally. If it s not then all the technical investment amounts to nothing.

I know that next month at the Belgian International, arguably Europe’s most professional tour tournament, Badminton Europe will hold a ‘tournament organisers’ conference. The purpose of the conference is to get all tournament organisers together from around Europe to discuss the process’s involved in organising tournaments and to move this process to a more professional era to coincide with the development of BEtv. Again the guys in Badminton Europe have to be applauded for this as every time an event is streamed a potential viewer will either stay tuned or just turn off depending on what they see.

There are many things we can do and I know so many will scorn my suggestions and that is fine. The one thing I hope that will not happen is that come Rio in 4 years we are not sitting here in a quagmire of ‘what ifs’ with insignificant rules being introduced to fix political sporting problems within the game of badminton.

We have a unique opportunity to showcase our sport after London and I hope that the powers that be seize this opportunity to run with good ideas and listen to even the bad ideas. This will show inclusion and openness that I feel our game needs.

Roll on Rio

Mark

(All opinions expressed in the article are purely personal and form no part of any organisation or society)

Black card warning

It was a strange feeling sitting in Wembley Arena last week watching the events unfold both on and off the court. As a self confessed badminton nut it was difficult to deal with the emotions of the week as the game went through the proverbial ringer after the disqualification of four women’s doubles.

A week on and hindsight is a great thing but I really believe the BWF made a grave mistake in disqualifying all four pairs. I was there and I sat right behind court 1, the middle court of three. To my left was court two and to the right of court 1 was court 3.

I was watching the women’s doubles match, along with some colleagues, between Jung Kyung Eun/Kim Ha Na and Wang Xioali/Yu Yang. Without going into detail it was clear to me that the Chinese on court 2 clearly instigated the match throwing fiasco and the stunned Koreans were subconsciously forced to play the game. I firmly believe that the Koreans came on that court to play a competitive match and that the Chinese were there to throw that game or, as they say themselves, to conserve energy for the knockout rounds. The Korean pair, in my opinion, were in the wrong group at the wrong tournament at the wrong time and really had no option than to play along.

We all know about the history of match manipulation in the sport of badminton and what the Chinese tend to forget that this affects the lives of others outside of their regime. Look at the instance at the Indian Open only a few months ago where Kashyap Parupalli made it to the Olympics at the expense of Ajay Jayaram after China’s Chen Jin withdrew under suspicious circumstances. He may have been injured but the suspicion is always there and China have cried wolf just too many times.

The big mistake on this occasion was the failure of the umpire and referee to deal with the situation on court 2 and to allow the Chinese to continue to act in a manner that made a mockery of the Olympic ideal. While most badminton knowledgeable crowds have sat and watched similar circumstances unfold over the past years, the crowd in the Wembley Arena, who paid huge money for their tickets, were not about to be taken for fools. The booing was so loud that the powers that be had to sit up and take notice.

Baun embraces Sato

As we all know the Koreans won the match and the Chinese avoided their team mates in the knockout stages as a result. By the time the Indonesian and second Korean pair came on court many of us had called what would happen next.

The winners of this game between Polii/Jauhari and the Korean third seeds would now have to play the top seeded Chinese who as a result of their match manipulation finished second in their group. Again we have a situation where the failure of the Chinese to play fair directly affected the lives of others as both pairs on court 3 did all they could not to win.

A major factor in this case was the involment of the Korean coach Sung Han Kook in both games. After being involved in the earlier match between his pair and the top seeded Chinese the Korean coach was no longer in a frame of mind to be able to give constructive and impartial direction to his pair Ha Jung Eun and Kim Min Jung.

Again body language told so much and it was clear that the Koreans pair were not comfortable as they attempted to throw the game and in a similar vein the Indonesians were drawn into the fiasco. It was clear that Sung Han Kook gave his Korean pair the instruction to throw the match in a ‘two fingered’ gesture to the Chinese for what went on only an hour before on court 2.

All four pairs ended up being disqualified but I really believed that the subsequent appeal at the time would have been successful for the Koreans and the Indonesians. I really believed that at the time the powers that be needed to suspend all then under appeal only the Chinese would have been sent home and the appeal successful for Indonesia and Korea. How wrong was I!!

As an observer and in hindsight there were many failings en route to the debacle. Apologies have come from all involved but the fact of the matter is that the BWF failed in their control and organisation of the tournament and implemented a group format without testing. Thomas Lund has been very forthright in accepting the failings of the BWF on this occasion and I am sure they will learn from it but come on guys….we have seen the manipulation of group stages before. Has sport learned nothing from the 1982 world cup finals incident between Germany and Austria? I was only 12 at the time and I remember that.

Pole in Pain

It is my opinion to disqualify all four pairs was the wrong decision. Yes the Chinese had to go but the coaches have a lot to answer for from all camps. It is my opinion that the Koreans and Indonesians were victims of the Chinese arrogance. They did it before so what not again. We also need to look at other sports in these games and there has been some alleged, less than fair, goings on both the track and in the veledrome so it is not just badminton this is happening.

In a funny twist of fate it was the Chinese second seeds Tian Qing and Zhao Yunlei who went on to win the tournament. It was their loss to Juhl and Perdersen in the group stages that set this sequence of events in motion in the first instance. Also on a positive note the fiasco brought unheralded media attention across the globe and I for one never saw so many journalists interested in badminton all gatherer in one place in my life.

From a personal perspective it was great for me to see and meet up with some many of my badminton friends from all over the world and share the experience of the games with them. I think as a whole many of us agree the ‘lump in the throat’ award of the games went to Tine Baun and Sayaka Sato. Seeing the Japanese shuttler break down hysterically in tears after sustaining a tournament ending injury was heart breaking and to watch Tine Baun come across the net to hug and console her opponent had many grown men in tears. This is what the Olympics are about.

On the opposite end of the emotion scale I witnessed my friend Michal Logosz cry in pain on the ground in his last Olympics. A torn Achilles ended his Olympic dream and it was tough watch and not be able to do anything as he was taken away in a wheelchair.

I was also very impressed by the involvement of the army in these games. Much was made of the security issue on the lead up to London 2012 but what an inspirational desicision it was to bring in the army/air force guys to help out. These guys and girls were amazing and so friendly and helpful. Nothing was ever a problem for them and what a professional job they did.

At times the casino type atmosphere in the Wembley arena got to me and WOW the pink was so overpowering at times. The air conditioning had to be controlled during play so the heat in the hall was intense especially during the evening but as a whole the badminton made up for the very few failings.

Inspirational Irish Support

In the end China proved that no matter what the rest of the world could throw at them that they are still the dominant force in badminton. Not only have they maintained their status as the greatest badminton nation on the planet but they enhanced this reputation by taking an unprecedented 5 gold medals and 8 badminton medals in total. The reality of the situation is that China does not have to get involved in any controversy to win medals. They can do it under any circumstance as they are the best in the world.

Finally and I cannot sign off on my Olympic experience without paying tribute to those Irish fans, family and friends who came across to London to support Scott Evans and Chloe Magee. Getting tickets was as difficult as getting an audience with the Pope but the Irish managed it somehow. Where ever there is an Irish sportsman and women on show the Irish supporters will be there. Even in defeat they cheered and supported as only the Irish can do. Well done guys and girls you were a true inspiration.

The Real Spirit of Korea

The atmosphere and pressure inside the Wembley Arena gets very intense at times. When players and coaches are inside the venue they are very much in the zone and prepared for both what happens on the court and in the media scrum thereafter.

The weather has been pretty decent here in London so far and any opportunity both the media and players and athletes get we go outside of the casino like lighting of the Wembley Arena. The heat inside has also been difficult to deal with as obviously the air conditioning has had to be controlled so as not to effect the light of the shuttle.

It is the sort of heat that makes your chocolate bar bend instead of break if you know what I mean.

Yesterday during a gap in the morning and afternoon session I was walking up to the nearest shop to get a drink but more so just to breath in some fresh air and enjoy the natural light.

We were walking against the current of emerging spectators alongside some Korean players and their coach Kim Ji Hyun. All of a sudden this crazy group of Korean fans emerged from around the corner and could not believe their luck when they ran into their heroes.

The Koreans players engaged with their fans for a good 5 minutes and talked and answered some normal questions. Questions they were all happen to answer although I didn’t understand a word of what they were saying.

Again one of those moments that could only happen at the Olympic Games. We must remember the Koreans team were rocked by the fiasco that went on the previous day and they would have been forgiven if they just kept their heads down and walked on.

Not these Korean ladies so let’s not tar them all with the same brush.