Though lacking in stars, spectators and suspense, badminton’s World Mixed Team Championships of 2013 had enough of the rare and new to make it an exciting event. Here are my memories of… the 2013 Sudirman Cup.
By Raphael Sachetat, Badzine Chief Editor. Photos: Badmintonphoto
The Sudirman Cup is always an exciting event, because one can see younger players, “smaller” badminton countries. This year was no exception in this regard, even if the event itself was without stars like Lin Dan, Taufik Hidayat, Peter Gade, Juliane Schenk, Tine Baun, and Saina Nehwal. There was even disappointment when it came to spectators and suspense, at least relative to expectations for the final days of the Level 1 competition. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed the show, and to tell you why, let me share with you my memories of this year’s Sudirman Cup.
The new man in charge
Soon after arriving in Kuala Lumpur, I could feel the excitement, hear about behind-the-scenes meetings, with signs of hearts – and votes – from BWF Delegates until the very last minute: the new BWF President was to be elected the next day. And I must admit that this “competition” between two very deserving candidates – Justian Suhandinata and Poul-Erik Hoyer – was by far the most suspenseful event of the week.
The Dane won this competition, but shortly after, Justian had reassuring words and mentioned that he would be helping his former opponent to develop badminton, hand in hand. I must say that this is a good sign for the years to come. As for Poul-Erik’s ability to run the governing body, I am not worried. On top of his ample charisma, the man has what it takes.
I must also say that badminton can be grateful to Dr. Kang who, together with his team, has changed the sport for the best. The direction is set, and Mr. Hoyer has the cards in his hands, together with another valuable personality – Gustavo Salazar Delgado from Peru. Good luck to them and the new council.
New talents and new pretty faces
The Australian team sent some of their younger players to get some experience together with likes of veterans Renuga Veeran, Glenn Warfe and Ross Smith. Amongst them, a new player who was in the limelight this week: Gronya Somerville. The 18-year-old high school girl is a natural beauty – let’s be honest. She was one of the three shuttlers nominated for “best dressed athlete” at the BWF welcome dinner and award night, and many photographers followed her matches closely when she was on court the following week.
Impressive by her looks (No, no, forget it, boys. She has a sweetheart back home!), Gronya is also a very talented player. Athletic, powerful, with a great vision of the game, she could very well be the shuttler Australia or Oceania needs to promote badminton at a higher level. She will be good. Very good, if she keeps up practising hard. If she makes it to Rio, I will not be surprised at all and it will be good news for the sport. The same goes for Turkey Vietnam as well. They both have talented youngsters for sure, to be considered for the years to come.
Health and Safety? Well…
While I was working as a Photo Manager in London, I must admit that I was having nightmares about all these regulations regarding health and safety. Had my English bosses been around this week in Kuala Lumpur, they would have gone crazy. Not only there were cables all over the place in the old and not-so-safe Putra Stadium, but the worst was to come – I found myself on top of the observation deck of the KL Tower, almost 500 metres above sea level, with just a small chain 15 cm from the ground and signs saying that “for your own safety, do not cross this yellow line”. There was no one there to check security, and all it took was a simple step to jump off the tower! Scary!
Bukit Bintang is famous for its shopping and massage places. Some masseurs take your feet and turn your life into a combination of nightmare and paradise – it hurts at times, feels very good at others. One old Chinese lady was able to tell me that I was lacking sleep and had some back problems just by massaging my feet – no kidding?
But other kinds of massages are apparently happening in that same street and oddly enough, as the evening goes by, the so called masseuses are less and less cautious about what they offer. From “very goood massage siiir” around 7 PM, it quickly becomes more like “Body body masssaaaaaaage siiirrr, very good” to a blunt “sex masssaaaaaaaage for you, handsome” late at night. No thanks. I’ll pass but will definitely come back for more pain/joy of foot reflexology!
Malaysians, where have you gone?
Malaysia’s loss in the group stage was not only a huge disappointment for the local fans – it was a nightmare for the organizers and sponsors. From what was expected to be a badminton fiesta with an extraordinary atmosphere turned out to be a fiasco in terms of spectators. I have never seen Putra Stadium so empty on day 5 of any competition, and when Scotland beat the Netherlands, there were… 25 people in the stands of the 15,000-seat stadium.
I can understand Malaysians’ frustration when it comes to seeing their national team play. Of course, Lee Chong Wei keeps delivering points, but the women’s singles are still not up to Mew Choo’s level. As for Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong, I do believe that a separation would be a good thing – even if temporary. That would give experience to youngsters partnering them, and maybe giving them that extra bit of motivation they seem to lack. They are both amazing athletes and it could serve them to potentially get back together at some later stage.
I tend to think that the new format of the Sudirman Cup is missing something. This year, in level 2 and 3, there was no relegation and no promotion as a target for players, and I find it difficult for teams to get motivated for the honours of winning matches, and not for a set target.
Scotland delivered a great performance, but they will not enter the elite group as there will be another draw depending on the countries’ average world ranking and not according to the results in the last edition. That led teams like Hong Kong to fly out of Malaysia right after the round robin stage, withdrawing from all later ties. I heard rumours that the format might change again to prevent that, so I hope that there will be some improvement.
Moments of craziness
Big events like this are often very tiring for everyone involved either as working staff, as volunteers or in the media. As often, my good friend Yves and are the last ones in our press seats to send our last images to our clients. That evening, we were so late that no one was there but a couple of cleaning staff. Yves and I started to get a little giddy and he dared me to get on the umpire’s chair, in the middle of the stadium and shout “Vive la France!”. We giggled and the teenager in me couldn’t resist taking the challenge. I was laughing so hard that I could hardly climb up the chair, but I eventually managed and shouted as promised. Yves couldn’t stop laughing as he had been filming the whole thing.
The good idea: the BWF awards night
Players should be put more in the limelight as personalities, not only as shuttlers. A perfect example of what can be done to achieve this is to have events like the BWF players awards which was held on the day prior to the competition. Not every player turned out dressed up, but some did, and the image they gave to the press was a clear sign that they are great promotion tools for the sport.
The event was fun, the players loved it, and I felt like I was shooting the red carpet of the Cannes Film Festival, only with badminton players instead. It would be great to have a similar thing in an outside venue, so that fans and photographers could get the chance to see their favourite players looking nice! At the Indonesia Open maybe?
Instant replay cameras
I was lucky enough to see a demonstration of the cameras and software that will soon be used for real at a badminton event to challenge the line judges’ calls. I must say it’s pretty impressive and so accurate that it leaves hardly any doubt. Unlike the Hawk Eye system, which is based on statistics, this technology is based on real images which are really sharp in slow motion.
I guess it’s a costly but needed improvement for the sport, especially when some smashes are hit at more than 300 km/h. Indonesia will be the first event to use this tool as a test and actually give players the chance to challenge.
Most of you know my involvement in Solibad – Badminton without Borders, the foundation that we created 3 years ago. This time, I was able to find a bit of time to visit one of the projects that we support at Solibad – an orphanage in the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur – in Cheras. As all the children of Sanctuary Care Centre were on holiday, I was lucky enough to be able to see most of them.
Together with my good friend Rajes Paul from the Star, we were able to enjoy a performance that the kids had prepared especially for us. They had songs and dances as well as drawings, to thank all the donors that had helped them on a daily basis. Some then learned how to say “thank you” in different languages and had fun repeating it for the short video I made – soon to be online on www.solibad.net.
From there, it was back home to continue preparations for Solibad Day, which in France, we will be launching on June 29th with a ride with our bicycles decorated with shuttles and badminton rackets to join Maxime Francois, a French shuttler who will be doing a “Tour de France” on his own – 3000 km and 22 cities visited as a Solibad Ambassador! This will be huge and fun!
Even before that, though, it’s back on the road for me and the badminton tour as the Superseries reconvenes in Indonesia and Singapore next month.
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