Of media battle, technology and rule changes

The BWF is trying its best to rope in technology to keep the sport abreast with other chic sports that rule the market.

Aparna Popat June 21, 2011 16:03:56 IST
Of media battle, technology and rule changes

Badminton is short, quick, exciting and power-packed. In short, it has everything needed to draw people to the stadium in this day and age and be a successful sport. But it still remains a lesser cousin to the marketing giant that tennis is.

While tennis has evolved over the years with new technology and better media management, badminton still has a long way to go to catch up. If Saina Nehwal wouldn’t be playing in the All England, most of the people in India wouldn’t even know when the tournament starts. Contrast that to the coverage that the Grand Slams get in tennis – the difference is huge.

The Badminton World Federation (BWF) has done its bit in spurts, but it hasn’t been consistent. During the 2010 World Championships, an iPhone application was launched to provide news, photos, reports, draws, player profiles and more from the tournament. However, this was a one-off initiative. Wimbledon, in comparison, has a website, photos, features, apps, live television coverage, radio and more.

Over the years, the telecasting of badminton matches on television and the Internet has been minimal. Hence, the sport has lost out on the visibility quotient as fans all over the world were almost devoid of badminton. This also resulted in a paucity of sponsors. The sport suffered in totality.

Of media battle technology and rule changes

Too close to call? Lin Dan in action. Lee Jae-Won/Reuters

Being aware of this and taking a leaf out of the tennis success story, the BWF is trying to use various media platforms to raise the profile of the sport and players. The recently-launched official live streaming and video-on-demand channel is a step in the right direction.

Now, badminton fans will be able to view an assortment of matches from around the globe. The online channel http://badmintonworld.tv is hosted on YouTube and shall be extended to the entire BWF World Series. The Singapore Open that concluded last week was the first event to be streamed live. This will surely help in promoting the sport and reaching out to a wider audience.

Replay system

This is not the only initiative undertaken by the BWF. Lin Dan and Taufik Hidayat are undoubtedly amongst the world’s best shuttlers. With almost all the major titles won between them, they display an aura that is unmistakable – poise, grace and mental toughness. Yet, there are times when these great champions have looked vulnerable and lost their composure.

The final match between Lin Dan and Lee Hyun Il of Korea at the 2008 Korean Open comes to mind. Lin Dan was repeatedly awarded what he thought were faulty line calls. This made him terribly upset and the Chinese almost staged a walkout. Even the coaches almost came to blows.

Not only this match, at this particular tournament, it was rumoured that any match which featured Koreans had disputed line calls favouring the hosts. There was a blatantly bad line call in the mixed doubles final too where an Indonesian pair was up against, you guessed right, the Koreans.

The shuttle had landed three inches long at the baseline and was called right. During Thomas Cup finals in Guangzhou in 2002 and the Busan Asian Games the same year, the mighty Taufik Hidayat fell prey to his volatile emotions caused by the umpire’s decisions and bad line calls which led him to lose matches. In the 2006 Hong Kong Open, he walked out of a semifinal game against Lin Dan because of a bad line call.

One might say that bad line calls are part and parcel of the game. However, when they occur, they almost always draw a reaction from the aggrieved party. Some players handle these situations better than others. It’s a temperament thing.

However, some choose the John McEnroe’s style of tantrums and threats. These bad line calls can cause a player to lose focus and frequently result in the outcome of the match being altered. Not only is the aggrieved party affected, but in certain cases even the favoured player gets affected. Somehow the guilt of the line call is carried by the player who realises that his opponent is being wronged.

As a child, I heard about this incident where Prakash Padukone was favoured by a bad line call. He obviously couldn’t have the decision revoked so he accepted the point but netted the next service on purpose. This was his way of apologising to his opponent and leveling the advantage of that line call.

In badminton, until recently, the line umpire had the last word when it came to line judgements. The judgement awarded by the line judge was full and final. Thankfully, an amendment to this stringent rule was brought about. The chair umpire now has the authority to overrule a line decision.

Though this rule is in place, the chair umpire uses it judiciously as in a lot of cases, he/she doesn’t get a clear enough view of where the shuttle dropped to overrule the call. There is a school of thought that says at the international level, bad line calls are good because they make the game more entertaining and show the mental toughness of the player.

However, the BWF isn’t going by that philosophy. In an effort to minimise the disputes over line calls, the BWF is planning to introduce a replay system similar to the hawk eye technology in tennis and the third umpire view in cricket. However, as the game of badminton is really quick, this technology is going to be challenging to implement.

Even though the game will be less error-prone by doing away with faulty line calls, the federation will surely not want it to affect the flow of the game. BWF Deputy President, Paisan Rangsikitpho admitted that the body has been experimenting with the replay system. It is being studied and is likely to come into effect after the 2012 Olympic Games.

I applaud the BWF for these initiatives. The federation is trying its best to rope in technology to keep the sport abreast with other chic sports that rule the market. Something more concrete than the skirt rule.

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