Former players, coaches skeptical as BWF considers change in points system to shorten matches
Several proposals from member associations will be discussed during the AGM, the most important being a joint proposal from Badminton Indonesia and Badminton Maldives, and seconded by Badminton Asia, to 'amend the Laws of Badminton relating to the Scoring System.'
At the forthcoming Badminton World Federation (BWF) annual general meeting planned for 22 May, an important proposal that affects the way the game is played will be put to the vote, viz. altering the badminton scoring system from the current best-of-three games of 21 points each (21*3) to best-of-five games of 11 points each (11*5), both on the point-per-rally format.
Several proposals from member associations will be discussed during the AGM, the most important being a joint proposal from Badminton Indonesia and Badminton Maldives, and seconded by Badminton Asia, to "amend the Laws of Badminton relating to the Scoring System."
The change in scoring format has been the brainchild and long-cherished dream of BWF President, Poul-Erik Hoyer-Larsen, who won the 1996 All England men’s singles crown at the expense of Malaysia’s Rashid Sidek, when the old scoring system of best-of-three games of 15 points each (15*3) on the point-on-serve-only system was in force. Larsen had tried to push the 11*5 system through in last year’s AGM, but had been unable to garner the requisite votes.
“The proposed scoring system change is part of my vision to make badminton more exciting, to reduce the length of matches and to increase the entertainment value for stakeholders and fans,” said Larsen, at the BWF headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.
“The last time this topic was tabled, it did resonate with a significant section of our membership with a narrow verdict met. We concede the timing was not right back then, but I’m pleased to see this being driven by the membership once more.”
There was consternation amidst the badminton community when the proposal was first formulated, and the matter was discussed threadbare. Opinion on the plan to shorten the game by the 11*3 format (which requires a player to win a minimum of 33 points to win the match), in preference to the existing 21*3 system (which requires a player to win a minimum of 42 points for the match) had been overwhelmingly in favour of allowing the existing system to continue and had been a thumbs-down for the proposed shorter format.
Even today, the country’s two most celebrated badminton coaches are ranged against the 11*5 format.
“Basically I am not at all in favour of the 11*5; the present 21*3 format is fine and has been accepted by both players and audience,” says Vimal Kumar, who runs badminton coaching at the Dravid Padukone Centre of Excellence in Bangalore. “Some older players who are past their prime are keen on introducing these new shorter formats. They are only good for the players who are close to retirement.
“There are so many nuances to the game now. Players playing in large halls with a strong drift are required to control the game. These days, all players are extremely fit, but many make so many mistakes! I feel the big badminton nations like Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea and India should prepare infrastructure specifically for badminton. Emphasis should be on giving the players ideal playing conditions. But don’t do away with the 21*3 format.”
National coach Pullela Gopichand, who has been credited with producing world-class players like Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu and Kidambi Srikanth, is in full agreement with Vimal. “The present system of 21*3 has been working fine, and the sport has grown steadily in the past few years,” he says. “There are a lot of things that could be done, rather than change the scoring system.
“But if the BWF is forced to make the change in favour of a shortened game, then I would prefer their going for a 15*3 system on the existing point-per-rally format, rather than 11*5. Having said that, I am not privy to the scientific information that the BWF has, but I hope they have valid reasons for doing what they are doing. They are tinkering with the points format, something that is not at all ideal. There are so many other things that can be done for the good of the sport, rather than touch the scoring system at this point of time.”
Quality players who have represented India in their prime, and have encountered the three major scoring systems that have been tried over the years – the 15*3 format on the point-on-serve system that prevailed until 2001; the 7*5 format, also on the point-on-serve, that was introduced in 2002, and was scrapped almost immediately; and the 21*3 system that was introduced in 2003, and continues till today – are near-unanimous that moving to a 11*5 system will be disastrous for the game.
“I really don’t see the need for a change of a system that is working so well,” says Asif Parpia, who partnered Prakash Padukone in the doubles event in Thomas Cup matches in the late-1970s.
“When they changed from the 15*3 point-on-serve system to the 21*3 point-per-rally format, it was to make the game faster and more interesting, since players earlier used to try and play safe on the opponent’s service, and only take chances on their own serve. Therefore, it was justified, and it gave the weaker players a chance. But now, to make the game even shorter and more staccato would be to take away the artistry from it, the systematic building up of a rally.”
Parpia’s contemporaries, Ami Ghia Shah, a 23-time national champion, and Kanwal Thakur Singh, who won the national women’s singles crown twice in the 1980s, are a bit more tolerant of the plan to shorten the scoring format to 11*5, but agree with Parpia that a change is not really needed.
“Basically, it all boils down to how you accept it, since any change affects players,” says Ghia Shah. “If the 11*5 system comes through, the game will be shorter. Players will have to be more positive and give fewer negative points. You can’t think too much; you will just have to improve upon your positive points, irrespective of the score. Earlier, there were no air-conditioned courts; now, you have to get used to playing in air-conditioned courts with and against the drift.
“So it will be the same for both 21*3 and 11*5 formats. I feel it is okay both ways. Stamina will be required for both formats, but the main point is not giving negatives. It is better to improve yourself than be tense about what is going to happen. So the game will become more positive. However, if I were asked to vote for one of the two systems, I would go for 21*3 because the system has been in place for 17-18 years, and people have got used to it.”
Says Chandigarh-based Thakur Singh, “My family keeps saying that I am very resistant to change, so my very first thought on the subject is that you should allow the existing format to continue because it is working so well.
“As a player, I hated interruptions in the game, and liked continuity, so the thought of having breaks at the midpoint of five games, as well as at the end of each of those five games, is jarring and unwelcome. I guess, if they are doing it for TV ratings, they will go ahead with it, and we will all get used to it after some time. But if I were asked to vote, I will give a thumbs-down to the 11*5 format.”
Returning machine Dinesh Khanna, who won the Asian title in 1965 with an ironclad defence that drove the best attacking players to distraction, says, “Eighteen years back, the 7*5 format was tried and discarded, since those five games were not found suitable for badminton, for whatever reason. In my opinion, this proposed change falls in the same category. Why should we go in for something that has been dropped?
“Secondly, these days, getting used to the drift in the stadiums is 50 percent of the battle. By the time half the 11-point game is over, the player has not yet settled down and adjusted to the drift; and it becomes time to switch ends to the opposite side of the court, and try to get used to it.
“Thirdly, the game will be reduced by 15-20 percent, which is way too short. We will be sacrificing the finer points of the game to speed and power. The beauty and variety of strokeplay in badminton, which is not present in any other game, will become purely power and speed-oriented. Stamina and staying power are part of the game, but they will not be tested.”
Khanna claims his wife Veena, who has always been an avid follower of the game, says that, as a spectator, she would not enjoy the 11*5 scoring format. And, he feels, taking a spectator’s viewpoint is essential for the assured future of the game.
“If they feel that the length of the game must be reduced at all costs, let them adopt a 19*3 format instead of 21*3, so that there is a 10 percent reduction in the length of the game, but there are at least 38 points to be won before the match is over,” he says. “Only in the women’s doubles, I feel they should reduce the scoring to 15*3 on the point-per-rally system, because the rallies are currently interminable and the match becomes boring to watch.”
The final word in the debate comes from Vimal Kumar, who feels that the current BWF President has the support in the AGM to ram his proposal through.
“If Poul-Erik is so hell-bent on effecting a change, then we may have to accept it,” says Vimal. “But then, there can be a different solution. Look at the different formats employed by cricket and tennis. We should do the same thing for badminton – have the shorter game at the lower levels like the Super 100 and Challenger type series, and the longer game at the more prestigious tournaments.
“Earlier, in our heyday, all tournaments had a tough, 64-player draw, where you had to win six rounds to win the title. Now it is much easier for the players since the draw at the bigger tournaments has been shortened to 32 players. For such events, I would advocate persisting with the present 21*3 format. For the Super 100 and smaller events, shorten the format to 11*5, by all means.
“At the same time, build a good infrastructure and conduct matches in 5,000+ capacity halls, like they do in tennis – so that the audience can come and concentrate on those matches featuring up-and-coming players, and they get to watch good badminton. In the marquee tournaments, if you take away the physical aspect and the skills, the game will become unattractive. Let them continue with the 21*3 system.”
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