Big Change for Badminton in 2021

(ATR) Bigger than football, basketball, and tennis? That's not all BWF secretary general Thomas Lund has to say. 

(ATR)Badminton will be transitioning from natural feather shuttlecocks to synthetic ones.

Badminton World Federation (BWF) announced on Monday it has approved the use of synthetic shuttles at BWF International sanctioned tournaments of all levels from 2021.

In an effort to increase sustainability within the sport, the BWF worked with Yonex to develop the new synthetic shuttles. The final phase of the project involved testing them at three BWF sanctioned international tournaments last year.

Feedback indicated that the Yonex synthetic feather shuttle was more durable and economical compared to a traditional natural feathered shuttle, while at the same time providing a very similar flight and performance.

According to the BWF, various testing has shown that the synthetic feather shuttle could reduce shuttlecock usage up to 25 percent, providing a significant environmental and economic edge for badminton going forward.

Yonex is expected to have competition in the synthetic shuttle market.BWF has introduced guidelines for shuttlecock manufacturers to seek approval for versions of their synthetic feather shuttlecocks to be used in international competitions.

BWF secretary general Thomas Lund calls the decision a positive step for the sport, adding "this new synthetic feather shuttlecock product can provide a unique platform for the future growth of badminton and we hope to get strong support from our players and other stakeholders within the badminton community".

The traditional natural feather shuttlecocks will still be in play at the Olympics in Tokyo this summer. As you might expect, Lund had plenty to say about Tokyo 2020 in a wide-ranging interview with Around the Rings.

Around the Rings -Tokyo is just about six months away. What is different about these Games?

Thomas Lund -Every host city has its own characteristics, strengths and challenges. Japan is clearly a very badminton knowledgeable country. When you have that type of audience, you know the sport will be embraced. Already the tickets are very much in demand because of badminton’s status in Japan and we look forward to a fantastic Games.

ATR -Are you happy with the venues? Anything you would like to see changed or that could be improved?

TL -We are very happy with both venues for the Olympics and Paralympics. We’ve had one of our biggest World Tour tournaments – the Japan Open – at the Olympic venue the last two years and that has been a great testing ground for how the venue will cope during Games time.

The Paralympic Games venue has also been refurbished and it is located quite centrally in Tokyo. We expect all technical requirements at both locations, from flooring to lighting, to be superb and I’m sure the overall standard of both the badminton and Para badminton events to be of the highest standard.

ATR - What rounds or matchups would you recommend to fans in Tokyo who know a little about badminton, but not a lot? Which teams or individuals shouldthey watch?

TL -We expect a fantastic level of competition in Tokyo.

With the Japanese team being so prominent in the rankings in all five events – men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s doubles, women’s doubles, and mixed doubles – the Olympic badminton competition is highly anticipated.

In women’s singles, we have Carolina Marin going for back-to-back gold after suffering a severe ACL injury in her knee last January and her road to recovery has been remarkable. And of course, from Japan’s perspective, all eyes will be on Kento Momota. Very unfortunately, he was involved in a motor vehicle accident following his victory at the Malaysia Masters in January and he faces a few weeks on the sideline. But we expect him to bounce back like the champion he is and give his home fans plenty to cheer about as he chases gold in Tokyo.

ATR - Is anything different in terms of referees and umpires? Score-keeping?

TL -It will be pretty much the same. There will be Hawkeye, and the same number of umpires. Generally, the setup is similar to how badminton is played on a daily basis.

ATR -How is sponsorship going for BWF? What markets are most important?

TL -Our relationship with our current sponsors is fantastic. Our two biggest sponsors, HSBC and TOTAL, have global footprints but are also very attracted by the strength badminton enjoys in Asia. As far as markets are concerned, these are global companies so they also get value out of badminton’s presence on every continent.

ATR - Badminton at the Youth Olympic Games. How does that fit with the sport's development?

TL -The fact that it is in Dakar, Senegal, gives us two openings.

One is Africa, an area where we have been and are working on with our stakeholders, Member Associations and Continental Confederations for many years. This gives us impetus to drive into Africa, to hopefully open new doors and position badminton more strategically in the continent.

Furthermore, it gives a new opening in Senegal itself as we haven’t got a Member Association there. Right now, the documentation to become a member is being processed. Hopefully soon, because of YOG’s influence, we’ll have a Member Association in Senegal that can help, assist and grow badminton that builds upon the preparation leading up to the Games. We see a positive in being able to develop the sport in a country where badminton is not so big.

ATR - Likewise the continental games. How important are those (or not) to badminton's development?

TL -They are quite important to our general development because they have been prioritised by national stakeholders, the NOCs that are helping to fund them and other additional factors. We work closely with our Continental Confederations and the organising committees to stage the badminton competitions as we see a possibility to create exposure and visibility for the sport through these Games. They have an importantposition in our overall tournament structure and support the existing dynamics we have around the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

ATR -There have been some complaints about the number of required events and player fatigue as a result of a crowded competition calendar. There have been a number of injuries and some key retirements that are said to be related. How do you address these concerns? How can you guarantee maximum performance if players say they are worn out?

TL -We’ve always looked carefully at balancing the number of required events. That said, in most cases, almost all players at the top of the rankings play more tournaments than required. So, it is also very much a question of how the players and coaches plan their calendars.

The truth is, in top performance sport, there are bound to be injuries, although we haven’t seen an extreme amount over the years. We understand at this level, it can be hard on the athletes’ bodies, so we’re looking at things such as scheduling and increasing the number of days the matches are played on. We have introduced a limited number of entries intournaments to ensure not too many matches take place. But the players also must take their own initiative, plan their tournaments better and not stretch things too far.

ATR - What is happening with USA Badminton? Just over a year ago BWF and USAB had a summit that included formulating a 10-year strategic plan. How is that going?

TL -USAB is going through an evaluation process with the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC). We can’t say much on that as it’s between the two parties but our commitment to the 10-year strategic plan with the Member Association and USOPC remains unchanged. We have an unchanged desire to develop badminton in the U.S., particularly with Los Angeles 2028 in view.

ATR - As you know, there have been some highly critical communications regarding the situation with USAB. Do you have any plans to intervene? Are you concerned this will affect US athletes' performances in Tokyo?

TL -We definitely would not want it to have any impact on the athletes. As always, we are willing to help and assist if they need guidance from us. But as mentioned above, our commitment to growing badminton in USA and North America remains unchanged, including our support to all athletes.

ATR -Former world champion and current player Viktor Axelson was quite vocal recently about changes he would like to see at BWF. He touched on everything from changing how winnings are disbursed to delays getting the next day's order of play. He also was among those complaining about the current calendar. Do you have any response to these items?

TL -Yes, Viktor Axelsen did come out with a wish list of things for the BWF to focus on, many of which are already being looked at, addressed and reviewed. Certain areas may not be as simple and as straightforward, especially with the differences across the world but we are always open to feedback from our athletes and we wish to continue having dialogues with them.

ATR - Is there anything you would like to say that we haven't asked?

TL -In general, badminton is experiencing large-scale growth around the globe.

According to the 2018 Global Badminton Study conducted by Nielsen Sports, the sport's fan base is estimated to be 681 million across seven regions based on sample surveys conducted in 21 badminton markets globally. This is an increase of around 37 percent since 2015 on those same 21 markets.

For 2018, the survey added 15 additional markets increasing the badminton fan base by 54 million, bringing the total number of badminton fans globally in 35 markets to be estimated to 735 million fans across seven regions.

In fact, badminton is ranked third behind football and basketball and ahead of tennis, motorsport and golf in terms of total fans when measured in 21 key countries.

On top of this, there’s also 339 million active badminton participants who played badminton at least once a week estimated across the 35 countries studied. China has the greatest number of individuals playing badminton on a regular basis followed by India, Malaysia, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Thailand and Indonesia. In Western Europe, we have also seen a huge increase in participation in Russia and Spain in particular. Our next efforts are to tell the world about this via our communication strategies.

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