Editorial – Why I think it’s time for a change in scoring system

As Chief Editor of an online magazine I often have occasion to write editorials that go against the trend or what seems to be the consensus among the webzine’s readership.  […]

As Chief Editor of an online magazine I often have occasion to write editorials that go against the trend or what seems to be the consensus among the webzine’s readership.  This would seem to be an example of this.  When I read the results of the Badzine Poll on whether our readers were in favour of the change, I was not surprised by the result (78% against any change).  I expected that most people would be against the change.  Now, I’m going to tell you why I think it’s time to change.  You may not agree, and you are welcome to comment and debate the issue.

People hate change

It’s a fact.  Whenever there is a change, people are usually against it.  Change scares us.  It’s a basic human psychological answer to something potentially troubling our habits.  In fact, I can tell you that in France, it’s a national sport to be against change.  People here strike so that the government makes changes, and when the government starts making changes, people are once again in the street… against the changes!

It may sound funny but in badminton, I think it’s a similar process.  I remember when the was 3×15 and that we started experiencing the new 21-point rally system, a lot of people were against the change.  Then, the more people played with the new version, the more they liked it.  In fact, it’s a good bet that many of the 1,218 Badzine readers who voted to keep the current system were among those who opposed its implementation in 2006.

I’m sure it will be the same with the proposed 5×11 scoring system.  People will hate it, then they will only dislike it, then they’ll get used to it.  Then, they’ll realize they’ve adopted it.

Why change something that’s already good?

Many will say “Why change a sport that is thrilling to watch?”  It’s true.  Badminton is already thrilling…sometimes…not always.  It’s thrilling for those of us who already know and love the sport.  That doesn’t mean it thrills everyone, and certainly not everyone who just happens to discover the sport for the first time on television.

I have been experimenting lately.  I’ve spotted, among tournament spectators, people who were obviously coming to watch badminton for the first time and I’ve watched their reaction at the beginning of each game.  Among those who stayed in their seats, rather than taking a break, their attention was clearly drifting away from the court.  Clearly, there is less enthusiasm from the spectators at the beginning of each game – in most cases – because the suspense takes too long to come into a 21-point game.  Watching badminton is fun but we can make it better by making games shorter.  There might be viable options other than the proposed 5×11 one, but this sounds reasonable for me and I’m looking forward to seeing the experiments.

TV rules

Another reason that the change is needed is for television.  It’s just for television, but let’s face it: television is the main tool to develop the sport’s popularity.  And it’s a fact that they need quicker matches and more breaks.  This means a bigger concentration of people watching in a shorter time, so that other sports get to be aired and bring another set of viewers.

More badminton on TV means more people looking for local clubs, joining for the first time, etc.  Badminton is really popular in Asia, it has its following in Europe…but that’s about it.  In Africa and in the Americas or Oceania, it’s not a big sport – to say the least.  And the only way television channels in these non-badminton countries will give a bit of space to a new sport is by making it convenient for them to scoot in between, for instance, two Italian third league football matches.  For that to work, it has to be appealing from a very early stage in the match, so new viewers don’t find it boring for the first few minutes, which are the crucial ones to retain the attention of new people.

Players say “no”, but….

There is something that puzzles me.  I’ve read many articles where current players were clearly favouring the current system over any new one.  Of course, it’s sometimes the best players, who have the most to lose if things change.  On the other hand, I hear their complaints when they say they play too many competitions and too many matches and that they need longer breaks.

Right now, it’s difficult to either have fewer tournaments, or fewer players in the draws.  So, the only way to prevent them from being overworked is by shortening the matches.  That’s not ideal and there will be a need to lighten the calendar at some point, but it’s a first step and it goes in the right direction.  If a scoring system change results in 30% less playing time, then that means players could be 30% less tired and have 30% lower probability of getting injured (I know that’s not a scientific calculation; I’m just simply making a basic hypothesis here!).  They should be happy about a change in this regard.

To be honest, even if there are more surprises because of the new format, I’m ready to bet that likes of Lee Chong Wei, Lin Dan and the few others that have been ruling the badminton world, will still be on top.  And if there is a change of ruler, well, so be it.  We need champions that come from countries other than the badminton powerhouses to make the game more international, to make it bigger, to attract new fans and grass roots players to spread beyond two continents.

A bit of a selfish note…

One other reason to see change in the game is more personal – selfish, if you wish.  First, I like changes.  Changes are fun.  They bring new names, new things into the sport.  But mostly, changes that make matches shorter will always be welcome.  They would be welcome to me, to my fellow photographers, to my reporter friends, to my friends in organizing committees, to officials, to the people at ALBS running the show on the Internet for viewers worldwide to follow it live, to my friends in the commentators’ booth…  All of us have bigger bags under our eyes each successive day of a tournament because matches and days go on and on, and on.

Don’t get me wrong – I love the sport, I love my job, but sometimes, when a week working on a tournament sees us sleep an average of 4 hours per night for a week – with “hardly any time to eat or even [take a leak]”, as my best buddy Yves would say – then we tend to like it a bit less.  Nowadays, Saturday nights are gone too – one of the only times where we could actually see glimpses of the amazing cities we cover events in.  The split of semi-final days into two sessions means we have to work long days on the weekend too.  It was a bit better when the new system of 3×21 rally point started out, but now, the players have adjusted their games and very often, matches last more than an hour.  And make our days as long as they were before.

That’s it for this time. I do believe that a change in the scoring system will end up as being a good thing for the sport. It must not be the only thing that’s changed, but it’s a key tool to make it more appealing to many people. Once again, feel free to give us your thoughts and share your ideas !

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.