CHINA has been dominating the badminton world for several decades but its startling revelation that it has less than 1,000 registered shuttlers is food for thought.
The lack of talent in a country with more than 1 billion population is a scary thought and one wonders where that leaves Malaysia, which only has 26 million to look for talent from.
The Chinese Badminton Association (CBA) revealed the facts during the All England last week, which came before China swept all five titles for the first time while Malaysia’s best effort was a runner-up finish by Lee Chong Wei.
In order to tackle the problem, CBA has planned a professional domestic league and has even cautioned that its top players will only compete in selected Super Series and grand pix events, which will give the Badminton World Federation (BWF) a headache.
But what about the BA of Malaysia’s situation?
Although Malaysia’s total number is marginally better (see graphic) than China’s as there are 1,153 active players ranging from the Under-12 category to senior level.
The quality, though, is a different story.
The national squad has a total of 63 players consisting 11 elite shuttlers, 16 elite back-up and 36 back-up shuttlers.
Bukit Jalil Sports School (BJSS), the home of the national juniors, has 74 players.
Among the states, Kedah, which can claim to have the best programme, has the highest number at 97 and this is followed closely by Johor which has 95.
Perak and Malacca have 89 each while Pahang and Kuala Lumpur have 82 players each.
Selangor and Penang have 80 each while Perlis and Sabah both have 61, Negri Sembilan 76 and Sarawak 65.
Kelantan have 30 active players while Terengganu have the lowest number at 29.
Despite the numbers, Malaysia only have Chong Wei as a world class performer in the men’s singles while back-up shuttlers Chong Wei Feng, Liew Daren, Arif Latif, Kuan Beng Hong and Tan Chun Seang are struggling to qualify for the main draw of Super Series tournaments.
The situation in the women’s categories is worse as in the singles, Wong Mew Choo is injury prone and retirement not far away while Julia Wong and Lydia Cheah are struggling to even match the Japanese and South Koreans.
The women’s doubles is in an even more bleak situation as there is nothing after Wong Pei Tty-Chin Eei Hui.
Why BAM is in this situation, despite having a good structure in place, is because the existing mechanism has to be reviewed.
The national senior circuit comprises just two legs and a grand prix finals and this hardly acts as encouragement to players, especially at the state level.
The two-division format has also not helped as state players avoid division one which is dominated by national players.
However, playing in division two has also not helped as this is dominated by players from Bukit Jalil.
The situation is even more drastic in the women’s events as the singles sometimes just attracts six players, a situation which is also repeated in the doubles.
The mixed doubles is normally a national team affair with an occasional pair from the states.
There is an urgent need to improve the national circuit and BAM, which tends to blame the international calendar for not paying due attention, must consider following China.
The national players should be compelled to play in the local circuit and compete in selected international events as this will have a two-pronged effect.
The national circuit will see renewed interest and players will also be able to maintain their international competitiveness.
A case in point has to be China’s Olympic champion Lin Dan, who won the All England last week and is going great guns in the Swiss Open, this after staying away for three months.
What is alarming is that the national junior circuit, which is run on a zonal format, is also suffering from a lack of participation.
The south zone leg in Malacca last month had less than eight players in the girls’ categories and only four pairs in the Under-18.
This could be because parents are more interested in their children pursuing academic excellence, which is also China’s problem.
China have, till this point, managed to overcome this by having successful sports schools but the ones in Malaysia can’t claim to have a high success rate.
The states too have to share the blame, for despite the number of registered players they have, the quality is nothing worth shouting about.
The states have to make it attractive for players and one such way is by having quality coaches, which should not be a problem given Malaysia’s history in the sport.
However, former players prefer to go into private coaching as the returns are higher and if the states want to attract them, they should work with BAM and devise a package which will make it worthwhile for someone to contemplate working with them.
BAM and the states must also not be overly worried about clubs for they have a role to play and Indonesia is a classic example.
Badminton in Malaysia may not be in the dire straits that football is but if China can be worried, then it only makes sense for BAM to take stock of the situation before it is too late.