England: Lin Dan, widely regarded as the greatest men’s singles player in badminton history, marked his return to the All-England Open with an appeal for his fellow professionals to be given more freedom.
The Olympic champion from China said Tuesday he wants professional players to be allowed more choice in where and when they play, something which might have been regarded as an anathema in his country only a short time ago.
“Athletes are a crucial part of the sport,” said Lin, who has reappeared at the world’s oldest event here in preparation for a bid to qualify for the Rio Olympics.
“We should lower the barriers to entry for professional players so they can sign up (for tournaments) themselves. That might help younger players come through as well as prolong older players’ careers,” added Lin.
The Chinese superstar believes the longevity of great players, such as Lee Chong Wei, the reigning All-England champion from Malaysia, and two other former world number ones, Peter Gade of Denmark, and Taufik Hidayat of Indonesia, may have delayed the onset of a new wave.
Lin’s opinions were supported by Gade, who believes most players will only be able to make their own decisions when supported by their own organisation. “Badminton is different from tennis and golf in that it doesn’t have its own professional players’ organisation,” said Gade.
“We have a different system. It’s a kind of old fashioned system. I know that the BWF and all the associations around the world are doing the best they can. But we have to put the bar as high as we can and work together. If we do that the sport we love has huge potential.
“We have huge stars like Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei. Hopefully we will see new stars emerge and older ones who still want to contribute. I don’t see many sports where bigger stars are active in this way. I really hope badminton will take advantage of this.”
Meanwhile the focus upon Lin has rarely been greater, as badminton’s biggest star prepares his bid to qualify for the 2016 Games, at which he would be trying for a third successive gold medal at the age of 32.
“It is for me to realise my value and put in the effort to win big tournaments,” said Lin, whose tournament appearances have been scarce in the past two years.
Lin denied that he was aiming for another Olympics because great rival Wei had changed his mind about retiring after narrowly missing a gold medal at the London Olympics. “This is a goal I wanted to pursue myself and it is a great honour to represent my country,” he said.
Lin made clear the connection between playing at this week’s All-England and getting to the Olympics. “My goal is to accumulate as many (qualifying) points as possible (for the Olympics) – and then fight for my sixth (All England) title,” he said.
Lin was also questioned about what the All-England meant to him, which he has not competed in since 2012. “Of course I know that the All-England is a 100-year-old tournament,” he said. “I have played 12 times and won (the title) five times. When I see top players here, for me it is very special.”