Badminton is a sport which hasn’t attracted the attentions of historians and academics. One is not sure why, for this is a sport with a rich and colourful history, and of a similar vintage as tennis or other popular sport.
The lack of historical perspective is the reason that tournaments with pedigree are treated no differently from other tournaments by players. The All England, for instance, is generally seen in India as the Wimbledon of badminton, but players treat it purely as another Premier Superseries event, worth a certain number of ranking points.
No player will gush about the traditions or legacy of the All England – because its traditions and legacy haven’t been publicised well enough. Most of the blame must rest upon its organisers, for they haven’t done anything to mark it out as a special event. Even in its 100th year, it was conducted like any other modern sporting event. It is in this context that another Premier Superseries event, the Denmark Open, assumes importance.
Organisers have been working to promote the event, and their efforts of the last five years are paying off. The tournament stands out for the way it seeks to position itself in a crowded badminton circuit.
It is conscious of its history and legacy, and although it has some way to go before it leverages itself in the manner that Wimbledon has, it is at least confident of its place in the scheme of things. It has sought to reach out to the world by hosting journalists from the major badminton-playing regions of Asia, and introduced to them the culture, history and business of Odense, the town that hosts the Denmark Open.
Today, the Denmark Open is special because it is strongly rooted in Odense, which has a rich history of its own. Odense came up around a Viking fortress built in the 980s. One of the attractions of the town is the 13th century St Canute’s Church, where lies the remains of King Canute the Holy, who was murdered by rebel peasants within the church in 1086. The most renowned of Odense’s sons, Hans Christian Andersen, is invoked every year at the Denmark Open – an actor dressed as Andersen welcomes spectators at the entrance, and accompanies the prize winners at the podium.
The history of the town thus rubs off on the Denmark Open too, which started in 1936 in the Danish capital Copenhagen. But for a brief period during World War II, the event has been held every year, with the venue shifting from Copenhagen to other towns such as Aalborg, Esbjerg and Aarhus, before settling down in Odense from 2007.
Nobody knows this event better than tournament director John Hansen, who has been associated with the event since 1967.
Hansen, former manager of the Danish national team, believes the event carries deep resonance with all followers of Danish badminton. "It’s a very important tournament for Danish fans," Hansen says. "The following is very strong. We have been improving every year and we have tried to reach out to the world through live streaming and TV." Hansen’s first stint as tournament director was in 1980 – the year Prakash Padukone won the tournament before his All England victory. "I remember him well – he was always very polite," Hansen says.
"People loved to watch him. Morten (Frost) loved playing him, because they had many close matches." With Saina Nehwal repeating Padukone’s feat last year, the Indian has become a popular figure in Denmark. "I love this tournament," she announced last year to thunderous applause after winning the final. Denmark’s sporting fans will await an encore this year.