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Planet Market Reports

Players Unhappy, Fans Unsure, BWF Has No Easy Options Available

By: Editor
Date: 28 Sep, 2020
Image Courtesy: Planet Market Reports
Truth be told, sometimes in life, there are no real good choices available and right about now the BWF finds itself in quite a pickle caused by the lengthy shutdown of the sport. There have been several start-stop decisions in there and yet we are nowhere close to finding an equitable solution that can be pleasing to one and all.

Latest in the series of flashpoints is the decision of the world governing body to push the 2020 season into January 2021, leaving just the Denmark Open in Odense as the only badminton tournament in sight for the rest of the year, for a sport that has been in hibernation since late March, due to the corona virus pandemic.

While the President of the BWF Poul-Erik Høyer in an open letter to all concerned maintained that they heard and understood the frustrations of the players and team, the world body has indeed come in for some criticism following the decision to postpone the Asian leg of the revised BWF Calendar. This means that the 2020 season will end only in January 2021 and will have a considerable impact on the already packed, not to mention, a still uncertain 2021 season.

An Olympics, the Thomas & Uber Cup to be fit into a truncated annual calendar would have been quite the challenge in itself. And now the added rescheduling with at least three topflight tournaments either having to be rescheduled, or worse, scrapped will add to the mounting worries of both the organizers and the governing body.

Now with the 2020 rescheduling it appears that Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian Masters will have to find new dates, which might not be the easiest of tasks into an already packed and extremely chaotic year. Currently the calendar is looking at 36 World Tour Events, not including of course the Olympics, Thomas & Uber Cup, the World Championships, and the Sudirman Cup. This would have been a challenge to have been able to accommodate into a normal, 12-month cycle without corona virus, now to be able to do it in less than 11-months with all the possible complications of travel restrictions, quarantine and not to mention contingencies – it could well be a miracle if we get anywhere close to getting a full list of events.

Some media reports are already talking about a truncated 2021, season and it is hard to see why! In addition to the fact that the scheduling itself is going to be a challenge, we are yet to see any real signs of a vaccine for the corona virus pandemic – which means the uncertainty and challenges around travel & quarantine, not to mention, safety – will continue to linger on.

The only thing certain at this point is that – we haven’t heard the last on this matter! With three months to go before the proposed end of the 2020 calendar, it would be a gigantic surprise if we don’t hear of more changes – to either the 2020 calendar or for the 2021 one.

Coming to the criticism and discontentment amongst large sections of the public – players & fans alike! One cannot help but see that there is clearly a gap between the governing body’s decision making and ground realities. Ever since the virus first reared its head and there were calls for the scrapping of the All England Championships back in March, it looks like somewhere the governing body and the players/public has found themselves in opposing corners.

Several players came out openly, and quite strongly against the decision to continue with the marquee event in March with corona virus shutting down most of the world. And now there is both criticism about the delayed resumption as well as the timing & manner of resumption.

While several other sports – football, cricket, tennis, and basketball – have all seen resumption of sport at least at the elite level, if not grassroots, badminton has struggled to put together a definite resumption plan that satisfies both the players and the paying public. Let’s get two things out straight – none of the leagues or tournaments resuming are without their own flaws and challenges; and not all of the criticism directed at the BWF is always 100% valid. 

And yet having said that, it is still baffling how that an elite global sport has fumbled on the global stage to get its resumption act straight and has had so many false ones already, that it does erode at the confidence of both the players and fans! Indeed, badminton being the only elite global sport that is completely indoors with the air-conditioning playing an integral part of the proceedings makes it a unique challenge for organizers. However, what has been found wanting has been as much clarity as the resumption of the sport itself.

Even at this juncture, we (and more importantly the players) do not have a clear idea on what the protocols of safety will be for players when the tournaments do resume. The latest release from the BWF alluded to the fact that safety protocols and operating procedures will be notified at a later date!

The criticism, and to an extent frustration of the players are surely valid! With many of them depending on sponsorships and prize money for sustenance has been hamstrung for way too long now. Players, especially those from Europe are finding it extremely tough having to fend for themselves with no support from their national associations, unlike their Asian counterparts.

Some of the leading Danish players have come out with some stinging criticism against the decision to postpone the events into January 2021. Players in India have had their own opinions about the decision making of the governing body.

As I said, right at the beginning – I do feel for the BWF as well, they really don’t have a lot of good options available before them. It’s very much a scenario of – damned if they do, and damned if they don’t – and yet, they have to! Not everyone will be happy with every decision, but they must take those tough calls.

And we haven’t yet touched on three very critical aspects – the financial impact & commercial considerations, the individual national associations & their health, and finally the game at the grassroot levels. Some of the leading voices in the sport have already voiced their concerns that the game at the grassroot level will be most affected by the pandemic. A six-month long hiatus could well end careers and alter courses of several young players. Rising economic uncertainty and want of resources will hamper training and the impact could well last for much longer than the duration of the pandemic.

In sport one very oft used adage is that when the going gets tough, the tough get going! It quite looks like the time has come for the BWF to engineer quite the turn around to bring the players back on to the courts and while having to balance safety, commercial & grassroot level interests – not going to be easy, and that’s why a reminder to that adage!!

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