Editorial – No show: is that promotion?

Lin Dan is the best showman in the planet badminton. Or should I say, the best “no show” man on the badminton planet. Twice, this week in Singapore, he failed […]

is the best showman in the planet badminton. Or should I say, the best “no show” man on the badminton planet. Twice, this week in Singapore, he failed to show up when he was expected to deliver. First, in the pre-tournament press conference. This led to a round of very bitter articles from the local and international press. Second, for the final of the Li-Ning Singapore Super Series. One of the 12 best tournaments of the world…

Old demons again. On Saturday, Lin Dan was joking and laughing during his post semi-final press conference. And was quoted as saying that it wasn’t so important to win, but that his role was now most of all to promote the sport. And the next day, he doesn’t show up for the final. Ill with gastroenteritis, according to the official report.  It was not the best promotion, and the 7400 strong crowd certainly was not pleased and booed the Olympic Champion – something I was seeing for the first time ever in a badminton event.

Of course, there is always a possibility that Lin Dan is really ill. After all the tournament doctor confirmed it. But, from previous experiences, the doubts are only legitimate. I was there, in the final of the 2008 All England, when he lost the final to Chen Jin – him again – and told the press he couldn’t play his best because he had a knee injury. His face was dejected…or angry. Lin Dan doesn’t like to lose. But obviously, offering Chen Jin a direct ticket to the 2008 Olympics was more important than Lin Dan’s ego…or knees.  Of course, it was a great strategic move from the Chinese powerhouse – Chen Jin was later to bring back a bronze medal from the Games – but a lousy sportsmanship manoeuvre.

This morning, in the Singapore Indoor Stadium, kids were all excited because they were to see Lin Dan, at last. He wasn’t here last year, and he’s obviously the best-known figure in this tournament since Lee Chong Wei hasn’t come. These kids, all excited, have gone home disappointed, like their parents…like the full house of the Singapore Indoor Stadium. If Lin Dan is not really ill – this might just be speculation but I’ll still get to the point – if he’s not really ill, then I just find it disrespectful. To the spectators who have bought their tickets for today’s finals. To the TV spectators from all over the world, who were eager to see another great match from the best player ever. To Peter Gade, whom Lin beat last night in a great performance, only to grant a walkover the next day.  To the tournament organizers, who put a lot of effort towards putting on a great show. To the sponsors – in this case, the Chinese team’s own sponsors!

Sports’ ethics and patriotism

In an older , I had referred to China shooting themselves in the foot, meaning, when things like that happen, not only is everyone suspicious, but most of the press following the sport closely – even some Chinese reporters – are finding it hard to believe that injuries strike when good points are at stake and when Chinese are playing compatriots. It’s been going on for a long time, with always the same debate: the sports ethics versus patriotism. Badminton is an individual sport event, not a team sport – apart from the team competitions like Thomas Cup, Uber Cup, and Sudirman Cup. There, China can show their power as a team, as a country. But for individual events, like the Super Series, it should be a fair fight, even between compatriots. Because as I’ve mentioned before, Baron Pierre de Coubertin – my compatriot – made it clear that being part of an Olympic sport meant that you have to give your best when you compete. Not your best to make your country be the best in the world, but the best of your own capacity, as an individual. Clearly not what Chinese shuttlers are doing when pulling out of major finals like today.

After his booed appearance, Lin Dan faced the media and explained what had happened the previous night and why he couldn’t get on court. He also mentioned that he was not aware of “such things as match-fixing between Chinese players”… but did mention that the interest of the nation is more important than anything. A hint?

Who is to blame?

On the other hand, I do not blame Lin Dan. Because – once again if the stomach problems are just an excuse – it might not be his own decision. What if his options were: withdraw, citing illness, or go on court and act, to finally lose? Lin Dan is a true champion. He goes on court to win, as he should. He might find it very hard to have to bow to a compatriot for the sake of the nation. I can’t blame him, really. If I were in his shoes – very worthy shoes! – I would probably do the same. It must feel terrible to play less than your best, knowing you’re going to feel compelled to lose at the end. And as I said before, the Chinese shuttlers are the best in the world and probably the first ones to suffer from this. Those who win because their compatriots didn’t give their best, or those who “have to lose”. It doesn’t matter, in either case, the victory or defeat is just bitter. Lin Dan stood in front of 7400 spectators who booed him. Probably not a nice feeling at all. Is it worth giving extra ranking points to his opponent of the day, and saving energy to beat players from other nations next week?

This is a tricky issue. It’s almost impossible to force players to play their best. It’s almost impossible – even with an independent doctor – to confirm whether an injury or illness is real or not. It seems impossible to convince some national federations that it is crucial that everyone play the same game in a fair way. So, maybe it’s time to take action. The Badminton World Federation will hopefully look into the matter – they have done a good job lately trying to make the sport move forward.  I do hope that there will be ways in the future to bring more justice to the sport. For the sake of those who do try their best on court and follow Coubertin’s wise words. For the sake of the millions of TV spectators. For the sake of the sport itself. For the sake of the Chinese players. They deserve better than being under suspicion each time there is a walkover as they are incredible athletes and don’t need this to win. And for the sake of these kids, running down the hallways, who were so disappointed when they heard that Lin Dan was not playing. After all, they are the ones we must convince if we want badminton to be popular amongst future generations….

If he was really ill, then my apologies. “Sorry sorry”, as he told the media, after not showing up for the pre-tournament press conference…

By Raphael Sachetat, Chief Editor of Badzine.

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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.