Editorial – China out of SS Finals: Shooting Itself in the Foot

Badminton has a clear paradox. Its strongest nation, China, relying on amazing shuttlers, on  superb crowds and great venues with high standard of organization, seems to be shooting itself in […]

Badminton has a clear paradox. Its strongest nation, China, relying on amazing shuttlers, on  superb crowds and great venues with high standard of organization, seems to be shooting itself in the foot.

by Raphael Sachetat, Badzine Chief Editor. Photos: Badmintonphoto (archives)

As if China admitting a few months ago that it had been fixing matches in an Olympic semi-final was not enough to dilute the sport’s credibility – China’s head coach Li Yongbo (photo, left) has publicly admitted that Zhou Mi was “asked” to lose to Zhang Ning in 2004 to grant the latter passage to the gold medal match – Chinese officials have recently once again, in some ways, given a tough hard time to those trying to develop the sport.  In spite of the remarkable effort from the BWF to promote a new circuit and coming up with a last-minute deal to finally the new Super Series its long-awaited Grand Finale – a tough task in this time of crisis – China simply withdrew all its shuttlers from the event, citing injury, a tough calendar and training camp.

There is something that I must be missing, here. Chinese badminton is, no questions asked, the best in the world. Its shuttlers are so dedicated; the crowds that fill the badminton venues are such enjoyable fans. The entire population lives and breathes badminton. The recent Olympic Games were justifable proof of China’s ability to hold extraordinary events and the success was mainly thanks to the hardworking volunteers and staff, the media covering all sports with impressive competence, and of course, thanks to the incredible Chinese athletes, its badminton players amongst them.

Today, once again, the decision to withdrawal the entire Chinese team from the BWF’s top and most prestigious competition sounds like a challenge given to the governing world body and to the sport of badminton worldwide as if to show that China doesn’t need anyone else to make the sport grow. In other words, a slap in the face of the BWF. This is obviously harming the sport and causing a lot of frustration for a lot of people. Even shuttlers from other nations, who could simply have thought of the better prize money they might enjoy, instead voiced concern for the sake of the sport. Of course, Chinese players have had a tough year and are tired. And the schedule is hard on everyone. But compromise must be found, sometimes.

So many people have worked endless days and nights to try to get money into the sport and promote the sport on a global scale. And when they succeed, their only reward is to see the world’s best turn their noses up at those efforts and walk away with their backs turned. Not really motivating, if you ask me. The players themselves are not to blame – they are probably the first ones to be frustrated, to participate in the Super Series all year long, only to learn that they’re forbidden to play in the finals – the icing on the cake, the pinnacle of their season.

Cultural clash with sport values

The way things have been handled for the past few years reveals a cultural clash between the Chinese interest, as seen by some Chinese badminton officials, and the sport’s values. Match fixing has been one of them, but not the least.

Defending patriotic values can be understood and has to be respected. Everyone has the right to feel proud when they see a compatriot  on the highest stand of the podium. And if China sees it as its main goal – to put the Chinese flag on top rather than any individual – this is a cultural thing and once again, it has to be respected.  All involved in the badminton world, and elsewhere, have their own thoughts, beliefs, rights and wrongs. China cannot, in any case, be blamed for wanting to get medals and for putting their general interest in front of that of the individuals.

However, badminton is a world-wide sport with rules, ethics and values. Fairness is one of them and match-fixing between compatriots obviously goes against all three notions. Not to mention a lack of respect it shows towards the TV viewers and the live spectators who have paid to see athletes give their very best on court.  When my compatriot Pierre de Coubertin gave birth to modern Olympic era, he clearly stated that the main thing was to participate and give one’s best. That was the rule, the ethics. It is again stipulated in the BWF rules that all athletes should compete at their best and not yield to compatriots because of strategic plans. Badminton is – apart from a few events – an individual sport.

Chinese athletes are amazing. They don’t deserve to be told to win or lose on demand. They don’t deserve to be deprived of an amazing competition after a year of sacrifices. The Chinese population doesn’t deserve to see one of the top events being played without the chance to bring back a medal from the first ever Super Series Finals.

Chinese officials have done a wonderful job bringing up the game in their own country and showing how talented and hard-working their shuttlers are. It is now time to work together with the outside world and the international community, to make the sport grow as one or risk losing contact with the outside world altogether, to “play by the rules” and to enter such events as the Super Series Finals. If not everyone – as some may indeed be tired or injured – at least show some support and send some of the top class badminton players.

They should make compromise as everyone does on a global scale for the ultimate good of the sport on our planet, not just within our individual countries so that the sport, as a whole, grows and benefits everyone. If only Chinese badminton benefits from its own growth, the sport might simply be taken out of the Olympic program someday.  Sponsors will then vanish and the little money coming in will be gone for a while. That’s what is called shooting oneself in the foot…

Raphaël Sachetat

About Raphaël Sachetat

Raphael is the Chief Editor of Badzine International. He is the founder of the website together with Jean François Chauveau. After many years writing for the BWF and many publications around the world about badminton, he now leads a team of young and dynamic writers for Badzine.