Badminton is in a great place but it can be better.
This was the defining statement from BWF Council Member Gregory Verpoorten at today’s BWF Members’ Forum as he presented the case for a number of enhancements to the sport which will be voted on at tomorrow’s Annual General Meeting.
Addressing the gathering of more than 130 of the international federation’s member associations, he asserted that more excitement and quicker matches are needed to ensure badminton remains relevant in the sports-entertainment industry.
“BWF has a responsibility to take steps to ensure elite badminton is presented well and to ensure the entertainment level is high,” Verpoorten (featured image) told colleagues in Bangkok, Thailand.
The BWF Council is urging its members to embrace three key changes: an enhanced scoring system (five games to 11 points instead of three games to 21 points); reduced on-court coaching; and a fixed-height service. These innovations, as well as other ongoing improvements (including sport presentation), will help to engage fans more and bring more intensity into badminton – plus reduce match length as well as physical and mental pressure on players.
“I hope that you will support these changes. It is up to us to move our sport forward,” he said in closing his presentation.
A follow-up panel discussion addressed various questions such as the possibility of having additional scoring systems – including the current three games to 21 – for leagues and different age groups. The view was also expressed that a fixed-height service is much fairer than the current regulation which depends on a service judge’s subjective assessment.
Meanwhile, the BWF membership was well warmed up for Verpoorten’s pitch by Sonja Piontek who delivered the keynote speech entitled Magic Happens outside the Comfort Zone. Tapping into the Forum’s theme Enhancing Badminton’s Future – Right Time, Right Now – she noted that while “leaving the comfort zone is never easy…it is worth every single step of the way”.
“Change is scary! I had fancy career…a bloody awesome life. I was loving it…why would anyone in their right life leave? I had this feeling that in order to soar, I had to leave my corporate life. It was the singlemost difficult decision in my life,” she disclosed, alluding to her resignation from a comfortable job as a business executive.
While “doubt is natural”, Piontek noted that people who are considering change should “focus on the positive”.
“Listen to your heart. Close your eyes and listen to what you feel is right…Whatever the dangers of the action we take, the dangers of inaction are far greater…(and) the price of doing the same thing is far higher.”
The Members’ Forum included other forward-looking presentations such as A Changing World of Sports by Managing Director of Infront Pan-Asia, Ian Mathie; Sports Presentation by Rudy Roedyanto (Indonesia Badminton Association – PBSI) and Adrian Christie (Badminton England) and Alison Giles of Great Big Events. There were also afternoon break-out sessions on Gender Equity – Beyond Ticking the Boxes and Sport Integrity – Match Manipulation and Corruption on Court.
Mathie focused on ground-breaking trends in the consumption of sports, especially digital technology. All organisations, he said, must have a “digital first” strategy, especially for millennials who “don’t recognise television”.
BWF Secretary General Thomas Lund and BWF Council Member Emma Mason zeroed in on BWF’s strides in digital and future plans in this space.
“We need to understand who our fans are and our weak spots (in engaging them). We need to have good representation across all the digital opportunities available to us…to grow our global fan base and remain relevant,” said Mason, adding that BWF must adopt a millennial-specific strategy.
Lund disclosed that BWF is seeking to use tournament and other data to create more interesting content and will be adding to its digital inventory later this year to reach more fans across more platforms.
“We must fish where the fish are,” he told delegates from all five continental confederations.