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While a controversial new rule related to players’ serves was introduced from March 1 and will be implemented on a broader scale at the badminton season’s biggest event so far, the prestigious All England Open in Birmingham from March 14-18, the BWF’s proposal to reduce on-court coaching and tweak the scoring system has been criticised. The formal proposals from the BWF Council are to be circulated on March 30 to the membership in preparation for the AGM.
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Ahead of the All England Open, here is what you need to know about the BWF’s changes and the ones proposed.
What are the rules in question?
The first rule says a shuttlecock shall be held less than 1.15 metres (3.8 feet) from a court’s surface before serving. The previous rule stated that the shuttle had to be below a players’s waist when it is hit. The new rule came into effect from March 1 and will be introduced at the All England Open.
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The second, which will need to be endorsed at the BWF’s AGM in May before implementation on the international stage, is a proposal to tweak the scoring system. The BWF has called for a best-of-five format instead of the existing three-game structure, and that games be reduced to 11 points instead of the current 21 points.
The third is aimed at reducing on-court coaching and also awaits endorsement at the ACM. As per the current rules, on-court coaching is permitted at the 11-point lemon break and at the end of each game during a match; the BWF Council has proposed that this be reduced.
Another rule which came into effect from the start of 2018 makes it mandatory for the game’s top 15 male and female shuttles to participate in at least 12 events per season, or pay a fine. These 12 do not include this year’s Commonwealth Games or Asian Games.
What’s the fuss?
Players who are tall are set to be impacted by the shuttlecock rule. For example, the likes of Vladimir Ivanov and Mads Pieler Kolding in the men’s game and Indian badminton queen PV Sindhu appear to be at a disadvantage because the need to contact the shuttle at a point lower to the ground will mean a change in serve. Conversely, for shorter shuttlers such as the formidable Japanese due of Nozomi Okuhara and Akane Yahaguchi – who stand at 1.55m and 1.56m respectively – a short serve will be far simpler for them.
Regarding the scoring system change, the BWF feels that it is necessary to increase the commercial value of the sport and enhance the quality of its broadcast product. This has not been widely welcomed by the game’s top shuttlers.
As for the 12-tournament rule, the concern is that many top players will have virtually no time to recover or manage any injuries that crop up.
Who has been outspoken?
Current World No 1 Viktor Axelsen – who stands at 1.94 metres – in January termed the new height rule “ridiculous”. Earlier, in April 2017, Axelson was seen in a video posted on YouTube as mocking the rule by squatting and kneeling while serving at a training session.
World number 2 Lee Chong Wei, who is 1.72 metres tall – shorter than several other top-ten players – was critical of the All England Open being the testing ground for his rule. “The BWF should have opted for small tournaments to test it. If I make a mistake with my serve during the All England, I will ask the umpire (about) the proper way to execute it,” he said.
HS Prannoy, the Indian shuttler ranked 10th in men’s singles, is not happy with the on-court coaching rule or the move to reduce games from 21 points to 11. “Badminton is an extremely fast sport and if you don’t have enough break, you have hardly time to breath, you can’t swipe sweat, you can’t go out or have water, I mean all the rules are against the players. There are days when things don’t fall into place, so you need your coach on those days by your side because they know you best,” he said.”I’m not really supportive of this format, because I don’t find 21 point to be boring. Probably, it would be an advantage for them who are not physically fit. I think in coming years we will find many players who were not been in the top 30 suddenly be in the top 30. I’m not really happy with the rule change.”
Pullela Gopichand, the former All-England winner turned India’s national badminton coach, was another prominent name perplexed by the proposed changes. “I don’t know what are the supposed changes, I haven’t seen the detailed draft, so I really don’t know. I think there was a time when there was no on-court coaching and then they added it. Now again they want to reduce it. So, I don’t understand the logic behind it,” he told PTI.
Added Denmark’s chief coach Kenneth Jonassen: “It’s my belief that on-court coaching makes badminton different from other sports which we are competing against – it’s unique. From what I understand – TV loves it, gives everyone an insight to what is actually going on and therefore is a better product for viewers to watch,” he said. “BWF can say what they want and of course nobody will or can argue that getting players to be more self-reliant is a bonus. But I don’t believe that is the reason to change on-court coaching. It is just a very good and clever excuse to change. BWF again blames the on-court coaching for making the games longer — please, [it is a] bad excuse.”
Saina Nehwal was on the most vocal critics of the new schedule. “The schedule by BWF is too crammed, it is not right for the top players. I need more time to get the best out of me. I can’t play back-to-back events. I can just participate but can’t win,” said Nehwal. “After the PBL we have three tournaments. Again before the World Championship there are three super series, so I am not understanding why BWF decided to go for such a schedule. It will be too tiring, too challenging.”
(With agency inputs)