A wise move on the part of IBF

THE year-long experiment of the International Badminton Federation (IBF) with the new scoring system in the game has finally come to an end. Effective from August 1, 2002, IBF has decided to revert to the old format with minor changes in the scoring of ladies' doubles and mixed doubles. As per the revised format, only men's singles and men's doubles will be played for 15 points whereas ladies' singles, ladies' doubles and mixed doubles will be played for 11 points. It was felt that ladies' doubles and mixed doubles was time consuming and not so interesting from the spectators point of view. Hence the decision to reduce the score from 15 to 11. I personally feel this is a wise move on the part of the IBF as it will reduce the overall time taken to complete a tournament without compromising on the most exciting events, viz. men's singles and doubles. These decisions were taken at the IBF Council Meeting in China recently.

In fact this issue was debated thoroughly by all the Member Associations at the Annual General Body Meeting of the IBF held just a couple of days before the council meeting but the IBF members were unable to arrive at a decision. It was then decided that the new council would take the final decision after taking into account all the views expressed by member countries for and against the proposal. The council finally decided to stay with the old scoring format of 15 points over best of three games for all sanctioned tournaments. It may be recalled here that a few years ago, a couple of European nations had toyed with the idea of playing the game for nine points over best of three games but had to finally abandon their plans for good when the Asian countries opposed the move unilaterally. This was in the late 80's and 90's. It was almost a repeat story this time as well with most of the Europeans favouring the seven point format whereas their Asian counterparts preferring to stay with the 15 X 3 format.

In fact Denmark and England did try to arrive at a compromise formula by suggesting that the game could be played on the 9 X 3 format. However, there were not many takers for this move and finally the decision was taken to revert to the old format when the IBF Council voted 12-8 in its favour. Thus starting August 1, 2002, all tournaments will be played as per the latest decision of IBF.

But, a lot of uncertainty will still prevail in the minds of players for the next few months at least. Even though, IBF has clarified that the revised scoring will come into effect only from August 1 this year, a couple of tournaments being played in Asia before that date like the junior Asian Badminton Confederation and the Malaysian Open have already announced that their events will be played on the revised format though they are being held in June and July. On the other hand, the badminton event at the Commonwealth Games to be held in Manchester during July/August, will follow the 7 X 5 format. Thus the players are being put in a quandary as to which format they need to follow, especially those players who are likely to play in both the Malaysian Open and Commonwealth Games. Indian players are also likely to be affected by this decision as BAI will be sending a team for both the events. Our players would do well to concentrate a little more on the 7 X 5 format as they have a chance of doing well and winning medals at the Commonwealth Games than at the Malaysian Open. Ideally, they should be practising both forms of the game at least till the Commonwealth Games.

From the Indian view point, it is best that the scoring system has been reversed for it is a well known fact that we were never comfortable with the new system. Even Gopi found it difficult to adjust to the new pattern. Actually 7 X 5 format put a lot of pressure on the seeded players as they didn't have enough time to stage come-backs. Once a lead was conceded in the initial stages, it was always going to be difficult to get back into the game. The new system was also too much in favour of unseeded players. At least now the established players can hope to give more consistent performances round the year.

If the idea of experimenting with the 7 X 5 format was to make the game more exciting and entertaining then the IBF should look at other avenues of marketing the game more professionally. The reason given for the change was that the game under the 15 point format took too long to complete and was therefore not attractive for TV Stations. I do not subscribe to this view. Take for example football and Formula 1 racing. In both cases, once the game begins, there is no break for almost 45 minutes and yet they attract maximum sponsorship and viewership. This proves that the length of the game is no bar to attract sponsors and thus bring more money into a sport.

IBF will have to address other issues like better presentation of the game on TV, a more balanced distribution of prize money in international tournaments, better scheduling of matches specially when the event is being shown live on TV, a permanent calendar of Grand Prix events without changing the dates of major tournaments frequently, etc.

At the moment, too many tournaments are being either postponed, cancelled or held during different months each year. Such changes do not augur well for the game in the long run. Some of the best tournaments in the World like Wimbledon are conducted year after year without making any drastic changes in their format. This goes well with all concerned viz, players, officials, media, spectators, TV, etc for they know what to expect from the tournament. So unless IBF addresses these issues head on, badminton will find it difficult to attract big-time sponsors to the game. But, for now, it is back to square one as far as the scoring system in badminton is concerned. It is only to be hoped that the authorities will not keep changing the rules from time to time as this is likely to make it more confusing for the spectators and viewers alike.