GUANGZHOU, China (AFP) — Another tournament, another world crown for China.
Having won every title going at the world table tennis championships earlier this month, China — as widely predicted — wrapped up the Sudirman Cup world team badminton championships on Sunday in equally emphatic fashion.
That after Chinese athletes pocketed 51 gold medals at last year’s Olympics to finish top of the medals table for the first time.
Outside China, players, coaches and fans agree that, as the Asian country grows richer, it is likely to increasingly dominate sports such as badminton and table tennis, in which it has traditionally been strong.
But what they cannot agree on is whether this is good for the sports themselves, while even the Chinese are beginning to wonder if, in some disciplines at least, they have become just too good.
"It’s dangerous," Cai Zhenhua, the country’s most senior table tennis official, said after seeing China secure yet another clean sweep at the world table tennis championships, in Yokohama, Japan this month.
"If one association keeps winning everything, it’s good for that association but it’s not good for the sport."
Even before China saw off South Korea 3-0 to win badminton’s biennial Sudirman Cup — they have now won the prestigious trophy three times in a row — there was disquiet about their supreme domination in that sport as well.
"I don’t think anybody thinks that domination’s a good thing," said Tom Bacher, president of Badminton Europe.
"I believe it would be beneficial for the sport for there to be a better spread."
But Bacher said he did not think China’s rapid development would automatically lead to further sporting success, saying that the rising standard of living could lessen the incentive to pursue a sporting career.
Raphael Sachetat, chief editor of the badzine website, said he feared badminton would lose popularity if China continued to dominate — and ultimately that may mean the sport being thrown out of the Olympics.
The poor crowds at the Guangzhou Gymnasium in southern China, where the Sudirman Cup was held last week, do not bode well — the championship is supposed to be one of the biggest dates in badminton’s calendar.
However, Sachetat conceded that China’s success could only improve levels of play throughout the sport as other nations worked harder to catch up.
Maijol Mahap, Malaysia’s usually reticent badminton team manager, said on Saturday after seeing his side taken apart by China that he feared the game would become "boring" if the Chinese kept on winning.
China has countered similar comments in the past by saying that it is prepared to send its coaches abroad to pass on the secrets of its success but Mahap said he had seen little evidence of its expertise being shared.
But not everyone agrees China’s supreme domination in badminton is negative.
Several players at the Sudirman Cup from lower-ranked nations said the Chinese players could not be blamed for raising the bar and that it was up to the rest to try to catch up.
"We are really in awe of the Chinese players’ ability so it is not a negative thing, it’s up to us to train harder and to learn from them," said Scotland’s Gordon Thomson, 23, a singles player.
Terry Yeo, 20, who plays for Singapore, said China’s success was partly due to its huge pool of players, while the Chinese also train very hard.
One glimmer of hope for the chasing nations is offered by Cai Zhenhua, the table tennis official, who said success carries with it responsibility.
"It’s our duty to offer the secret of our success to the world," he said.