BADMINTON – The Forgotten Heroes

Posted: October 21, 2012 in Uncategorized

That winning feeling is the same no matter where you are from!

The badminton tour, be it in Europe, Asia or globally, is somewhat akin to a travelling circus where everyone knows everyone and most people are involved purely for the love of the game.

What makes Badminton even more special is that very unique sense of family and togetherness you feel when attending an International tournament. As a media person there is that sense of meeting old friends and kindred spirits when you step into a media centre or the tournament hall for the first time and when leaving there is a distinct sense of looking forward to the next time.

While the sport continues to go from strength to strength and strives to adopt a more professional mindset there are many unsung heroes that are an integral part of the tour that for most part go unrecognised. We are all very aware of the band of volunteers that it takes to run even the most ‘professional’ of tournaments and as a group the lines people and umpires often spend countless hours sitting on their bums on chairs making matches happen. I can recall just recently one umpire presiding over 12 matches in one day at a Badminton Europe circuit tournament. Anyone who knows will know that this is akin to running a marathon in lay mans terms.

However for me there is another bunch of people who tend to go unnoticed and to me they are the reason we have the sport in the first place. Like the volunteers and umpires for most part their work goes unrewarded financially and their work is not solely confined to a few days at a tournament. The work of these special people is a continuous year round sacrifice, a constant struggle to be the best in what can be conservatively described as challenging circumstances. These band of special people I talk about are of course the players.

Yes of course there are the big stars of our sport that earn sizeable pay cheques for both on and off the court appearances but for every one star that makes a viable living there must be 100 that struggle. I have been involved in the sport now for a decade and it never fails to amaze me how dedicated these players are to the sport of badminton that for the most part gives them nothing but satisfaction in return.

Years of sacrifice to be the best

The financial struggle alone to be able to train and compete is a burden that any professional sports person should not have to endure. I often have to stand and bite my tongue when I am told that these players are not professional but knowing how the train and dedicate their lives to the sport they are as professional as the highest paid tennis player in everything they do, they just do not get the financial recognition for their efforts.

I even know players who struggle with their own families just because they have chosen to dedicate their lives to badminton, families who constantly remind them that the sport will give them nothing in return and they should concentrate on getting a real job or worse still a real sport. In some ways it is impossible to argue with them but it is when you talk to players and know what goes on inside their minds and know the pleasure they get from competing then you realise how important the sport of badminton  is to them.

There are also some fundamental organisational issues that make me sick to my core that take direct advantage of these players. This could land me in some hot water but it always amazes me how hotel prices seem to sky rocket for tournaments. An instance I have direct proof of is a tournament in continental Europe in 2011 where I rang for a room rate moonlighting as a tourist and got a rate that was 28% lower than players were paying for the same days.

Somebody is making money from the players in these instances and I have no idea whom it may be but surely this is an insult to the people that without their loyalty we would have no tour.

Maybe it is time for our players to stand together and be as professional off the court as they are on court as from talking to many players, mostly around Europe, I know that there is almost a feeling of worthlessness on their part when I believe passionately that every single one of them have a value to the sport and to the tour globally.

I have worked with players in the past on contract deals and educating them on their commercial value and I am starting to see a change in how our most prized assets value themselves but it is high time that our players formed some kind of meaningful off court alliance that represented their needs in a pro active manner.

One thing these great people of our sport have going for them is their intelligence and commitment to the sport and they should harness their collective power as a group and become a voice not only to be heard but a collective voice worth hearing.

Heroes in the making

There are so many players out there than cannot afford to even travel to tournaments let alone train and compete in a meaningful way and this is an issue that needs to be addresseda. Smaller nations need help to get their top players to international tournaments and a player’s foundation/Union/Alliance could achieve this. Having top players visible at tournaments is s key element to developing the sport in these smaller nations. This is one of the reasons I felt the omission of Michelle Chan Ky from the Olympics will do more to damage the sport in New Zealand than to develop it.

The Players are the real heroes of our sport, the players are the lifeblood and it is my opinion that the players need to start realising this and working with federations, continental confederations and commercial interests to give constructive input at this vital juncture in our sports history. And to be fair to all the major badminton federations I am sure they would welcome their input as the badminton world I feel, especially in Europe, is an inclusive world.

Maybe this is my real calling in life to work with players and it is always something I have enjoyed doing but the players also need to wake up and galvanise and become a voice in their own right and a be integral part of the development of the game. If they do not then they will always be the forgotten heroes of our sport.


As always the views and opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author.

  1. fabianpang says:

    Hello Mark Phelan I definitely enjoy en support your ideas and comments of our great Bdaminton sport.Thank you very much.

  2. Ross says:

    Hi Mark,

    Another good article. I once read a feasability study for a new professional football league. In it, a marketing professional stated that in order to succeed, the league would need three things; spectators, sponsors, and the media. If you look at any sporting success these three things are indeed critical to success. However, given that sponsors and the media are only interested in events if there is an audience, I would suggest that the critical success factors are in fact; spectators, spectators and spectators.

    Unfortunately at every level of badminton, and many other sports, spectators are few and far between. Many badminton fans, yourself included, often look at ways in which badminton should be changed to attract spectators. I believe we should stop making apologies for ‘our’ game, it’s brilliant as it is, or at least as good as many other sports that have a far wider appeal.

    Coverage of badminton is improving all the time, and online streaming is taking badminton to a new audience that will, because of the qualities of ‘our’ sport, continue to grow. The recent coverage of the Denmark Open was excellent, and I know I wasn’t the only person gripped by some of the finals.

    I believe that in attracting spectators, the challenge lies in developing the connection between spectators and players, not necessarily between spectators and the game itself. We need spectators to care who wins. Shows like X-Factor focus on developing the relationship between the singer and the audience to an extent that the audience don’t just watch, but also text in to ensure their favourite, someone who the audience think they know, stays in the competition.

    In this aspect, again, progress is being made. Many players use online media to connect with their fans and you, with your interviews and pictures, have also been helping us to get to know the players. In time, this will pay dividends.

    However, as things stand, in order for tournaments, at almost every level, to break even, or even minimise losses, tournament organisers must generate income from three sources; spectators, sponsors, and players. As stated above, generating income from spectators and sponsors is currently challenging, so players become the main source of income. This is as true at an under 10 local tournament, where the entry fee has to cover the court hire and a few medals, as it is at European Challenger circuit level.

    At European Challenger circuit level, the entry fee, and accommodation fees, which you refer to in your article, paid by players or their federations, go towards tournament expenses, including prize money, accommodation, transportation, marketing, officials expenses, volunteer expenses and court hire. You argued that “Somebody is making money from the players in these instances and I have no idea whom it may be”. I would suggest it is the federations that are ‘making’ money from the players, but only to pay for their event.

    It is a bizarre situation that the players who put on the show at European Challenger events, also pay for the event! It is akin to a clown paying to perform at his own circus! However, players are not clowns. Players know that tournaments can give them the potential for development or perhaps even glory. Players also know that tournaments allow them to accumulate ranking points, which have a potential value far higher than a few nights inflated accommodation.

    I commend you for representing players, as you say, many are unsung heroes. As a players representative, it may be interesting to collect income and expenditure data from all the events on the European Challenger circuit. This information may indicate if the factors critical to success, spectators, sponsors and the media, are indeed contributing to the success of the European Challenger circuit, or if the players and their federations are simply paying to play, and ultimately paying for points.


    • Hi Ross, As always I agree with the majority of your points but I disagree on exploiting players to help pay for events and I also disagree that we have a product good enough already to sell especially at European circuit tour level. As an example our sport is very anti climactical….A minority sport that can be won by a player serving into the net with no drama is not at all attractive to TV or spectators as there is no build up to an exciting end. We could discuss this forever but to me we do not have the tournament venues or a product as a whole to even go to TV with at BE circuit level.

      However this is all about to change with a new tournament direction taken by BE and the future does look brighter for sure.


      • Ross says:

        Hi Mark,

        When you say you “disagree on exploiting players to help pay for events”, do you disagree that this happens, or do you disagree with the principle of events exploiting players? I certainly don’t agree with players being exploited, but I tried to explain a possible reason as to why they may be.

        As regards having a good ‘product’, I agree with you that some events are not good products (usually the ones without a big audience), but I believe the rules and format of the game of badminton are as good if not better than any game.

        Sure it’s easy to pick holes in the rules and format. If someone serves into the net on match point it is disappointing, and if players throw the middle set of a game to focus on the third set that’s also disappointing.

        However, I believe that if we look at any sport as critically as we look at our own sport of badminton, we could easily pick even bigger holes in the rules and format of football, rugby, tennis, golf, snooker, to name just a few.

        I agree that the format of competitions and the presentation of the ‘product’ (players, venues, competition formats etc.) need development, but not the game itself.

        I, and I’m sure your other readers, would therefore be interested to know more about the new direction being taken by Badminton Europe. Should we expect to see an announcement on the BE website soon? Or can you give us an exclusive here!?


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