Post COVID-19 pandemic the independent players are finding it difficult to participate in back-to-back tournaments as they are unable to cope up with the organizer's norms.
Badminton is not the richest sport in the world, it isn't the most popular sport either. Then why do we see many shuttlers choosing to go independent? Let’s understand this better.
Playing a sport at the highest level and representing your country is still a dream for many. Getting selected for a national team means an athlete will be given good funding by the national association, get them brand/equipment sponsorship, and can sometimes draw a sizable salary by playing well in tournaments.
A well-funded association will have the luxury to afford state-of-the-art training facilities for their athletes and provide them with world-class medical care. Athletes’ workload and nutrition balance will be set and controlled by the coaches and sports physiologists at the national associations to push them to the limit. Athletes will be under the pressure to perform well to maintain their ranking to help secure better funding for their associations.
Once an athlete is picked up by the national association he/she will have to abide by the national association condition on which tournaments to play and which not to play.
In a sport like badminton where most of the players are under the national association's supervision, there are also many athletes outside of these national associations looking for a way to play their sport on the international level. Such athletes are called “independent players”. They often have to find a way themselves to get brand sponsorships and organize funds to propel their career.
These independent players don’t have the comforts as the national association players have. Independent players need to fund their training camps, coaches, and physiotherapists.
With the rapid growth of sports, athletes end up traveling further and further to participate in international tournaments. Going independent might work for the doubles players as they may find it easier to split the costs of managing their team and travel. They can also quickly change partners in case of injuries and retirement. But for a singles player to go independent is very difficult. The onus of finding a sponsor and managing a team becomes that much more taxing.
Before COVID-19 the event organizers never had any major restrictions on travel and lodging. Players could choose travel and loading according to their budget. Due to the pandemic, all the badminton tournaments are conducted in quick succession under a bio bubble. Where all the participating players have to stay and train in the locations arranged by the organizers.
This is becoming strenuous on body and pocket for the independent player. According to some independent international shuttlers like Shevon Lai-Goh Soon Huat, Chan Peng Soon-Goh Liu Ying, Tan Kian Meng-Lai Pei Jing, Chen Tang Jie-Peck Yen Wei and Hoo Pang Ron-Cheah Yee See the long stay in the five-star hotels in places like Bali (where the BWF is conducting three back-to-back events) is costing them $4500 weekly.
In the earlier days, players played this sport as individuals and won trophies as individuals. As the sport grew its popularity and a governing body was set up to regulate the development of the sport the badminton governing body (BWF) later started to delegate responsibilities to the regional associations.
Though all this was for the betterment of the sport over time it has also shown that this system was not always beneficial for the athletes. Currently, the national associations and their sponsors control the sport and its athletes.
It is not the same in other individual sports like Tennis. Similar to badminton, tennis players have to register themselves to the International Tennis Federation and get their player’s identification number to be able to participate in major championships. Other than that players don’t have to go through their respective national associations to submit their entries when they wish to participate in any tournament. The national association has control over the athletes when they are participating in an even national event such as the Davis Cup where competition is between countries.
We cannot comment on why players choose to go independent but for the future of the sport, all we can hope is that these special players find good sponsors to back them during these difficult times and allow them to compete at the highest level.