Badminton is finally emerging from a pandemic that was “threatening the sport”, world federation chief Thomas Lund told AFP, but China’s zero-Covid policy means it may face further damaging disruption. Badminton World Federation secretary general Lund said the coronavirus pandemic made 2020 and 2021 “a disaster” for the game, forcing tournament cancellations worldwide and slashing finances to the bone. The situation is gradually returning to normal and in June the BWF announced an expanded calendar for the next four years that adds four more tournaments to the world tour.
But Lund also warned that three events scheduled for the end of this year in China, as well as one each in Hong Kong and Macau, could be moved if Covid restrictions make them unworkable.
China is traditionally the pre-eminent force in badminton and a vast, lucrative market crucial to the sport.
But most international sports in China has been cancelled in recent years because of the country’s strict zero-Covid strategy.
“No doubt about it, that’s under heavy review at the moment,” the Dane said on the sidelines of the world championships in Tokyo of shifting the China events once again.
“Once we get a clear view whether it can happen or not, we may have to find a different destination for some of those tournaments.”
Lund said badminton will not turn its back on China because of Covid and wants the sport to “start growing there again”.
The Dane said surviving the pandemic has been “the focus” for badminton but he is now looking towards a brighter future with more events on next year’s calendar.
The 31-tournament world tour will include new stops in Japan, Germany, Canada and Finland, and Lund says the sport is expanding beyond its traditional Asian heartland.
“It’s on the rise because it’s not only the same countries coming in and bidding for extra tournaments here and there,” said the 54-year-old, who twice represented Denmark in men’s doubles at the Olympics.
“Growth is not only having 10 tournaments in our normal key countries, it’s also about expanding the global footprint.”
The addition of extra tournaments has fuelled accusations that players are being pushed too hard and risking injuries.
Lund believes players and coaches need to “learn how to play the calendar” by picking and choosing events, and says badminton wants to be “a sport creating legends” such as fellow Dane and world number one Viktor Axelsen.
Lund says it is also important to look after those further down the pecking order, citing the support for Ukrainian players since Russia’s invasion of their country.
In line with other sports, Russian players were subsequently banned from all international badminton tournaments and Lund says that is not about to change.
“I don’t think anybody can disagree that this war wasn’t started by Russian badminton players,” he said.
“That’s not what we’re claiming at all, but we are following the advice that we’ve discussed with our sports colleagues around the world.”
Lund says the BWF is also in the process of creating a new policy on transgender athletes that has a “more solid profile” than the federation’s current stance.
At present, national associations can deny entry to players who they deem to have gained an advantage after changing gender but Lund says it is a “complex question”.
He also says badminton “offers inclusivity” for LGBTQ players, despite the small number of openly gay athletes at its top level.
But he says the BWF is “not here to solve every issue on this globe” and will “choose our areas where we can help and contribute the best way possible”.
“I’m not sure anything is too big or too small but I also have to say that we’ve just gone through two years of Covid,” he said.
“That was threatening the sport, the livelihoods of our players, our financial solidity. Frankly, that has been the focus.”
Topics mentioned in this article