Editor’s note: Denmark’s Hans-Kristian Solberg Vittinghus is a former top 10 shuttler, who competed at the recent BWF World Championships in Huelva and reached the third round. Currently ranked No 22 in the world, the 35-year-old Danish star has come up with a wishlist of things he’d like to see in badminton. This article has been reproduced here with permission
Dear reader, what you are about to read is going to be rather long, hopefully also interesting, but for sure long. Very long.
From what you are about to read (and perhaps some of my previous posts) it might seem like I’m very unhappy about how badminton is being run, but that’s not true. There are many things that deserve praise too, but I’m really interested in making our sport even better for me, for you and for future generations, so I always look at the things we could improve on.
That’s how I think in most aspects of life – I try to make things more efficient, fairer or in broad terms, simply just better.
So, it’s my hope that this wish list of mine will be received in the way it’s meant to, not as a negative bashing of things as they are, but as constructive criticism as to how we can improve the sport we all love. And trust me, if you get to the end of this post, you do truly love and care about this sport!
A few opening comments to clarify a few things before you read the full list:
- This is not a complete list of my wishes; I’ve chosen to go with the ones I think are rather easy and in most cases expense-free to change
- It is not written in any specific prioritized order
- I do not have all the answers as to how to implement all my wishes
- I know it’s often a long process to change rules and regulations with how BWF is structured, so I don’t expect change to happen overnight
- My wishes might not be perfect and I’m very willing to hear your feedback, I welcome discussion, that’s how we make things better
- Some of my wishes are influenced by ideas I’ve heard from others
- Not a single wish of mine has got anything to do with what would be beneficial for my own personal career. My career will be over soon enough anyway, and I actually think some of my suggestions would be a disadvantage for me personally
Now, let’s get on with it:
The Things That Are Free to Change
- Re-open the World Ranking ASAP
Why: Because it makes no sense, we still have results from March 2019 that count towards our current ranking! These results are soon to be 3 years old – how does that in any way reflect our current level?
It is extremely unfair for the young generation of players as many older players currently hold a tremendous number of points, some of them without having performed for a long time and this gap of points is unbelievably hard to close with the current structure as there is no qualifying events for 750+ events. The players that are “in” in terms of the big events get all the chances for the big points and are currently not losing any of them, even if they haven’t performed for 3 years…
All countries except China are competing worldwide at most events again and I really don’t think it’s fair, we keep the rankings frozen, just to keep them ranked high enough. I know China’s interest is financially critical, but the current ranking freeze is simply just really unfair and not necessary anymore as the tournament calendar gives plenty of options for tournament participation.
- Stop giving us slow shuttles for almost all events, especially at big “slow” arenas
Why: Because it encourages a slow, overly patient game and makes badminton more of a physical battle than a technical/tactical one. Listen, I personally love slow shuttles and slow conditions, it’s great for me, just look at what conditions I’ve produced my best badminton in… But we are at a point now where we are playing in very slow conditions almost all the time. It’s not speeding up the game, on the contrary it gives longer rallies, longer breaks and a less interesting game.
- Do all draws 1-2 days before events start
Why: Because our current system with draws made weeks prior to events leaves us with lots of draws that are unfair in terms of strength as seeded players pulling out after the draws has been made, gives some players a huge advantage which is purely down to luck. It is so easy to fix this, and I honestly see ZERO downside to such a rule change. It’s a win for everyone, from players to fans to journalists who can then actually do previews that makes sense as they know the players are in fact showing up for their matches. They have already done it this way in table tennis for years. It works!
- Change the qualifying rules for World Tour Finals to World Rank Top 8 at end of November
Why: Because a season finale is supposed to be for the best players of the year, not some odd mix of some of the best and some of the most active players. It makes no sense the points you earn at World Champs/Olympics does not count, but it does give you access to WTF is you win those events… WTF is supposed to be the pinnacle of events on the world tour, but honestly and as respectfully as possible, the list of participants the last few times doesn’t do the event any justice. We NEED the best players there to make the season ending finale have the glory it deserves.
If this is not an option, please consider setting a cap of how many World Tour events count, so it’s only the 10-12 best World Tour results that counts towards qualifying. So that we don’t get anyone qualifying simply because they’re playing a lot more than everyone else, without any real success to show for it.
- Change the prize money structure at World Tour Finals
Why: Because the current structure pays so well even if you lose everything, that it discourages players to pull out beforehand, even if they are injured. They’re better off playing a few points in one match and then pull out, to secure their money.
My suggestion would be something in the lines of:
Fixed amount for qualifying, based on which position you qualify in (i.e., WR1, WR2, WR3 etc. up until WR9/WR10). This is paid out regardless of your participation in WTF or not.
Bonus per group stage win in straight games.
Smaller bonus for group stage win in three games.
Even smaller bonus for group stage loss in three games.
Very small bonus for group stage loss in straight games (given you complete the full match)
Bonus for qualifying for semi-final.
Bonus for qualifying for final.
Bonus for winning the final.
This will make sure that everyone always has something to play for regardless of their chances of qualifying for the knockout stage and regardless of their chances of finishing 3rd or 4th in the group. There is always money at stake, in every single game.
- Remove the rule of maximum two players per country at World Tour Finals
Why: Once again because World Tour Finals should be for the 8 best players in the world. Regardless of nationality. Players earn their right to take part in WTF and we are talking a considerable amount of both money and ranking points at stake. This is not a World Championships or Olympics where we obviously need representation from the entire world, this is an event that should be based solely on merit, nothing else. This is one of the most unfair rules in my eyes and I feel bad every time a player gets “cheated” for both money and the chance to earn points that they deserve.
At the very least, if the rule is not removed, let the player get the prize money they’ve earned in regard to their end of November WR (given the prize money structure is changed into as suggested above). The player who then gets in the WTF without actually having qualified, still has all the other bonuses and ranking points to play for.
- Remove (or rework) the rule about removal of ranking points if withdrawing against compatriot
Why: Because it crazy unfair and as I suspected back in 2014 (when we were asked to give out opinion of the rule proposal in the Athletes Commission) it punishes the wrong players: The players who do not withdraw against compatriots with any bad intentions behind it, but simply just because they’re too injured to carry on.
In my eyes this rule is a real bad look for our sport and it is pure luck we haven’t seen a match at the highest stage, where a visibly injured player is “forced” to carry on playing injured, as the ranking points can be vital in terms of both qualifying for important events and in terms of sponsorship deals.
- Find a solution to players walking on court to play a few points before withdrawing
Why: Because this is happening way too often with the current set of rules. It’s terrible to see and it’s unfair to the players on the reserves list who are fit to play.
In most cases players do this for one of the following reasons:
To avoid a fine for pulling out after the draw has been conducted.
To get the first-round prize money.
To get the ranking points – especially if you’re in contention for World Tour Finals.
The ranking points issue is not there, if the WTF qualifying rules are changed as suggested previously.
The issue of getting a fine for pulling out after the draw has been conducted, will also be significantly reduced if draw date is moved closer to tournament start as previously suggested.
The first-round prize money issue is the only one remaining and I’m considering if it could perhaps be solved in one of the following two ways:
- If you’re in the draw and present at the event, you get your first-round prize money regardless of whether you play or not. If you then pull out before the start of the event, the reserve who replaces you, will get the prize money respective of how far they go, minus the first-round amount. This way tournament organizers won’t have to come up with more money, but a reserve player will get a chance to go on court and earn both money and points.
- Fine players who pull out of first round matches an amount that’s equal to the first-round prize money plus the normal withdrawal fee penalty. Obviously, there must be an option for no penalty for suddenly occurred on court injuries, which should be confirmed by the tournament doctor, not a team doctor. This still open up for dishonest players, but also makes it a bigger hassle for them to go through – and again, many cases are already removed by changing the rules as suggested above.
The Things That Cost Money to Change:
- Make the testing of shuttle speed more even
Why: Because at the moment it’s a random player/person testing the speed every morning before the start of play. But since different players prefer different speeds, it’s extremely random if the player on the day will go for the slow, the very slow of the extremely slow shuttle (see what I did there?). Trust me, players test the shuttles in a way where they end up with the one, they personally prefer.
A part of the solution could be to develop a simple machine that can test the speed by hitting the shuttle with the exact same power every time, so it’s not some random player who “tries” to hit all the different speeds of shuttles with the same power.
- Have one or two reserves (WR9/WR10) on-site for the World Tour Finals
Why: Because this year perfectly illustrated how detrimental it is to WTF when players withdraw and there is no one to replace them.
If the prize money structure is changed into something similar to what I suggested above, then there is little to no reason for an injured player to play and pull out – and even if they play and pull out in any of their first two matches, there is a reserve ready to step in to have a shot at success, even if they take over the injured players first result. This way we will once again achieve a fairer competition, a better show for the fans and a better product for the stakeholders/sponsors.
They have a similar sort of system in tennis, so should be pretty straightforward to look at how it’s done there.
- Hawkeye on all courts at Super 1000 events + World Championships
Why: Because although I did previously point out it’s hard to trust the system 100%, it still makes a fairer competition and at these few marquee events, all matches can be career defining moments and have huge financial impact too, so we should strive for as fair a competition as possible.
- Develop an instant review system for faults called at the net and the serve/return
Why: Because these calls also can be huge, just like a line call and I don’t really see how it should not be possible, if the money is there of course.
As mentioned in the start of my post, this is not a complete list. There are definitely more we could, and perhaps should, change, like more rest days at big events as a good example. But most of what’s written above is rather easy to fix and change. It doesn’t demand fundamental changes to the way the sport is governed, so here and now, I think the above changes would be rather realistic to implement looking at the short term.