ONCE WERE WONDERKIDS; BADMINTON GOES BAD
© Duncan Graham 2006
Last month’s (Jan) exclusion of Indonesia from the All England badminton finals has brought accusations, demands and soul searching. Why has the once world champion tumbled so far? Duncan Graham sought answers.
Eddyanto Sabarudin looks into a future of gloom.
“I’m not optimistic,” he said. “The game has been in decline for years – ever since the economic crisis of 1998. It just doesn’t get enough financial support.”
Eddyanto is the deputy director of the Badminton Association of Indonesia’s (PBSI) competition and refereeing division. If he and other experts don’t expect medals in this year’s Thomas Cup and Uber Cup championships then how can the players maintain their spirits? Winning isn’t just skill and tenacity; the psychological approach is also critical.
Indonesia, once the untouchable in international badminton, hasn’t won a Thomas Cup since 2002. Its last Uber Cup win was ten years ago.
The tournament will be played in Japan with the finals in early May. The qualifying rounds will be held this month in India, starting 15 February.
The 20 players entered for the men’s and women’s singles and doubles include those defeated at the All England championship. Administrators say they haven’t had time to make big changes.
Or is that code for no depth of talent in the recruiting pool?
With a population close to a quarter of a billion Indonesia should be well placed to find stellar shuttlers everywhere in the archipelago. Big China is certainly a formidable foe - but to be defeated by Denmark with a population of less than six million, and Malaysia with a talent catchment one-tenth of Indonesia’s?
There are many answers. Former champion Tan Joe Hok (see sidebar) was reported as blaming insufficient training and practice - and all contributors to this story agree.
But first - back to basics.
This story is being keyboarded in an office overlooking a narrow street. Every late afternoon local wannabe Olympic and World Cup heroes turn the tarmac below into an arena of mixed sport. At one end soccer (thongs mark the goal) – at the other a badminton court minus net lest it snare the traffic.
It’s a scene duplicated daily in many towns and villages across the archipelago.
The lack of good public facilities is clearly a major handicap. Surabaya, the nation’s second biggest city has just ten clubs and only two international-standard courts.
Former world champion Rudy Hartono is said to have started in a Surabaya street, but his sportsman father noted the lad’s skill and got him into a proper court when he was 11.
Who’s talent spotting? Is Indonesia being combed for the best and brightest? Sports officials elsewhere are forever hunting for the next generation of athletes who can leap higher, kick further, slam the ball harder, trim nanoseconds of a world record.
“Unfortunately the kids have to come to us, we haven’t got the funds to go and look for them,” said Drs Nurhasan, deputy dean of sports science at the University of Surabaya (UNESA), and a former national player.
He’s also head of badminton research and development in East Java. UNESA is one of only seven public universities in the nation with a sports curriculum.
“This and the lack of facilities are major problems. A new national law passed last year requires every community to provide sports grounds, but this is going to take a long time.
“Few schools have adequate sports facilities. There’s also a problem with subjective selection of athletes. We need to have objective measurement of skills and coaching standards and not choose through favouritism.”
Oce Wiriawan, a former national player who coaches teams sponsored by property developer Citra Raya, said players peak early and are often off the competitive circuit long before they turn 30.
“KONI (the national sports organisation) distributes government funds which go to elite athletes and training camps,” he said. “It’s difficult to get companies to sponsor sports in Indonesia.”
There must be many more potential Rudys whacking shuttles off lamp-posts with makeshift racquets who can’t afford the Rp 2 million (US$ 210) for the necessary gear, let alone the confidence to enter a swish club in a fancy suburb.
Nining Widyah Kusnanik, head of UNESA’s sports coaching laboratory, wants a national women’s sporting organisation to be formed. She seen the one in Malaysia help women athletes win recognition.
Nining bemoaned a reluctance to seek overseas advice for ailing badminton.
“It’s part of our culture,” she said. “We don’t evaluate our failures. We still feel we’re the champions and have nothing to learn from others.”
SPORT AND POLITICS
Badminton was named after a lordly home in England where the sport was played. It was also known as battledore and shuttlecock, and may have had its origins in China or India a millennium ago.
After Indonesian Independence the word bulutangkis (literally ‘feather-parry’) was developed - but the English word retains its popularity.
Professor Colin Brown from Perth’s Curtin University has researched the sport in Indonesia. He’s written that the game probably entered Medan in the 1930s from Malaysia. It soon spread and is now the nation’s most popular sport after soccer.
Before it became professional badminton was often played as an entertainment in night markets. The Dutch didn’t take to the game. This has denied Indonesia the pleasure of defeating its former colonial masters in an international sporting arena.
Badminton has long been dominated by ethnic Chinese men. A recurring media story has local-born sporting heroes who’ve won prestige for Indonesia complain they’ve been denied a citizenship certificate.
During Sukarno’s era badminton lifted national pride when Tan Joe Hok won the All-England Championship by defeating a fellow Indonesian, Ferry Sonneville.
In the glory period between 1968 and 1982, Indonesia won 11 All Englands. The most famous player was Surabaya’s Rudy Hartono who took the crown eight times.
The game’s success inevitably attracted politicians. Former President Suharto is alleged to have been involved in team selection. He started putting military men in the sport’s administration though few had any knowledge of badminton.
Earlier this month (Feb) President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Vice President Jusuf Kalla both witnessed the wedding vows when world champion and Olympics gold medallist Taufik Hidayat married Ami Gumelar. He’ll be in the Thomas Cup squad.
The Thomas Cup (for men) is contested every two years. Indonesia has won it 13 times, China and Malaysia five times. The Uber Cup (for women) has been dominated by China, Japan and the US and collected by Indonesia on only three occasions.
(First published in The Jakarta Post 13 February 2006).