Badminton's feathered friends seeking to court a higher profile
Despite the success of some British players the sport feels a need to get dressed up in order to alter public perceptions
Badminton is a soft, rather genteel game played in school halls with floors sticky from spilt orange squash. At least that is the common perception and England's top players know it - which is why they agreed to pose for a series of quirky, sexy and outlandish photographs aimed at altering the sport's perceived personality.
"I think the sport has got a bit of an image problem," Nathan Robertson said. "It's often seen as a slow, church hall kind of sport. But it's a modern, fast, energetic game."
It is curious that Robertson should still need to pipe up for badminton. He won a silver medal in the mixed doubles at the 2004 Olympic Games and for as long as there was a chance he and Gail Emms could win gold, badminton was all the rage.
"We probably didn't take advantage of it [the silver medal] as much as we should. Our Association [Badminton England] didn't have the experience to deal with that situation and push on. It needed a lot of big ideas and a lot of big changes to the actual domestic running. You've got to bounce ideas around and move forward."
England's leading competitors are more than willing to bounce, move and wear anything. Robertson, 32, has even gone naked for a Cosmopolitan shoot before now. But he knows that far more important than some startling photos is consistent success if the public is to fall in love with badminton and be able to watch it regularly.
"You didn't see track cycling on TV five or six years ago and now it's been so successful it is on TV and there is a road race team for the Tour de France," he said. "It does help having people winning medals at the major championships."
The ingredients are there for an increase in popularity. The game is impressively, physically punishing for a start. Rajiv Ouseph, a singles player on the verge of breaking into the world top ten, recently joined up with West Ham United for a charity event. "Scott Parker asked me to smash it at him and I think he thought he would be able to get it back and I hit one at half pace and he didn't even see it," Ouseph said. "I don't think people fully comprehend how fast you're hitting it."
Andrew Smith, whose highest world ranking is 15, describes badminton as an art form. "The games are like chess," Smith, who was a youth player with Portsmouth FC until 14, said. "It is tactical and there is skill, the way you move around the court. We are way fitter than footballers. And in tennis you can play for five hours but you couldn't in badminton, it's almost non-stop."
One particularly fascinating element to the game is the psychology of the partnerships in the mixed doubles. "I like watching my lady partner kill it on the floor," Robertson, who now partners Jenny Wallwork, said. "Throughout my career I've been quite good at setting up winning shots for the girls. They can take all the glory."
There was speculation, even a mistaken assumption that he and Emms, who retired after the Beijing Olympics, must have been romantically involved to have complemented each other on court. So, one fairytale in the making is the partnership of Gabby White and Chris Adcock, who are partners on and off the court and were world junior silver medal-winners in 2007. "We were one point away from winning, it's a sore spot," White said.
"We always say we try to keep it professional on court. I can be open with Chris and say we need to work on things but with other partners you might be worried you might offend them."
It is unrealistic to expect White, 19, and Adcock, 20, to win a medal at the London Olympics but it would be a captivating story if they did. One tabloid has already used the headline "Courting Couple" and focused on the fact they do the washing up together.
White, who is from Leeds, uttered a delighted "blooming heck" more than once upon seeing the new photographs. Badminton England is hoping the public will feel the same way.
? The 100th All England Open Badminton Championships take place at the Birmingham National Indoor Arena from March 9-14. Ticket Information: allenglandbadminton.com
Source from Times Online
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