One of the best parts about being a sports fan is being able to go back in time – using our memories or hard statistics to back up an argument about a great player or a match. And we can do that in a lot of sports. The numbers, in particular, add context to the argument. There is a base to compare. And that is why we can still marvel at Don Bradman’s average, the home run-hitting prowess of Babe Ruth, the incredible years of Bjorn Borg or NBA star Magic Johnson’s brilliance. It gives sport and those watching some much-needed perspective.
But when ‘Daddies’ Hendra Setiawan and Mohammad Ahsan won their third BWF World Championships men’s doubles titles together, the obvious question on the minds of many fans was whether they were the oldest combination to achieve this feat. Their search for an answer, however, seemed to be going nowhere. The question was answered by silence. There was little information available for the commentators and even the Badminton World Federation had no definitive answer.
And that is when a Twitter handle @badmintonstats, which had started in June 2019 put out the list of the 10 oldest world champions in the decade with a note that their database only went back as far as 2010 and asked for more information from the others.
But in just under a year, Jens Christensen, who started the Badminton Statistics Twitter handle has managed to build a database till 1989 and launched his website www.badmintonstatistics.net to help fans get a statistical analysis of players and events beyond merely the results and players’ head-to-head.
It helped that Christiensen, who is in his forties, had been working in the software industry and was able to crawl data from the Tournament Software website, which is used by BWF for record-keeping and search for information beyond what is usually available during tournaments.
Christiensen said he began doing this exercise for fun as he could not find any statistics for matches and past tournaments, but he got so engrossed in the same that he went on to build a website.
“I have always liked sports statistics. I have for a long time been a fan of many American sports (mainly NHL ice hockey and baseball) which have all the statistics that you could possibly wish for and more. I have been working with data collection and analysis for many years, and when I couldn’t find very much information for badminton to answer my questions, it came naturally to start looking for the answers myself,” he told Scroll.in.
Christiensen also had a bit more time at hand to engage in data collection as he had taken a break and decided to pursue a degree to improve his programming skills and hence could spend a couple of hours daily in putting things together.
However, the biggest challenge for him was to weed out the errors in the tournament software data.
“What has been a problem is the wildly varying quality of data on tournament software. The last 10-15 years is not too bad, but before that there are many issues with the data, such as players with wrong or missing ID, duplicated tournaments, missing tournaments and many other unexpected issues that had to be handled as they appeared.
“BWF’s data covers most tournaments back to 1989, though before 2007 there are quite a lot of tournaments missing – even some very prominent ones such as All England 2002 and all Thomas/Uber/Sudirman Cups. I am currently working on adding the missing tournaments to the database, but it can be very difficult to find the scores for the old tournaments,” said Christiensen, who has even requested other badminton fans to share results sheets or other details of the few missing tournaments.
When asked whether he had approached BWF for the same, Christiensen admitted that he didn’t take that route because he was doing this more as a hobby.
The initial success and interest shown by fans in the data he is putting out has encouraged the Dane, who is keen on adding more information for matches. However, that is where the real challenge is.
The bigger problem with the BWF and tournament software database is the lack of proper information gathering during the matches. In the past, the match analysis had details like net and smash winners and unforced errors. These details were added by the chair umpire while scoring but the BWF noticed that the officials would randomly add this information and that led to the practice being discontinued.
“I think the next step is computer data, for example with Hawkeye, which has the capability to give a multitude of data such as shot speed, rally length, player movement and many others. I don’t know if it would be possible to get a computer to label winners and unforced errors as it’s often a judgement call, but it would be interesting to see.
“It is largely up to BWF as to what data should be collected and displayed, though I guess there is also an economic aspect, as I understand that Hawkeye is very expensive. As fans all we can do is put pressure on BWF to include more data to make the viewing experience more exciting,” he added.
The Premier Badminton League in India and the Axiata Cup had been using technology to show the heat map of players, trajectory of the smashes and other details and it would be interesting to see whether BWF would want to incorporate these details in their match coverage and also add that to their scoresheets.