By Peter Thornton
Auckland: There is little doubt that the New Zealand Badminton Open would not be happening this week in Auckland if it wasn’t for event director Julie Carrel.
The former New Zealand rep, whose best results included a top 16 in the World Championship and a bronze-medal play-off at the Commonwealth Games, has put her own life and financial assets on the line to bring the game’s best to New Zealand for the event.
The purse for this Gold status Grand Prix event, which begins on Tuesday night at the North Shore Events Centre, is at US$120,000 and the cost of running the event has come with more than a few sleepless nights and stressful times for the bubbly Carrel.
“Badminton has been my life,” she said on Tuesday.
“I played and I travelled and I am also an international referee so it has been my life… so it is important to me to see this tournament continue.”
Four years ago, the former CEO of Badminton New Zealand said they organization did not want to run the tournament anymore.
It was not worth the time or money so they were going to cancel it. Carrel stepped in and her company bought the rights for the event.
“It has cost me a bit of money, because it doesn’t break even, but it is a huge passion of mine. It is good to see it bringing some of the best badminton players in the world to New Zealand.”
The former champion of the event estimated that the first couple of years of running the tournament would have cost her around $20-30k.
Last year they came close to breaking even, and another badminton fanatic, a dairy farmer from Te Anau made up the loss for Carrel.
The 2016 event is currently budgeted at a loss but that could all change on the weekend if they get the ticket sales they are hoping for.
Carrel hoped the big Asian community in Auckland will come in numbers to see one of their most favorite sports in their new home country.
“There is no doubt that this is the best badminton they will see in New Zealand. This is our strongest field ever with world ranking points on offer in an Olympic year,”
The numbers are impressive. There are 52 players or combinations ranked inside the world top 50 in their chosen discipline (singles, doubles, mixed), and eight players or combinations ranked inside the world top 10 in their chosen discipline.
A total of 248 players from 26 countries in the main draw with the leading countries including Korea, China, Chinese Taipei, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan and India.
Carrel said the Asian countries are so tough to beat because they are faster and stronger, and fulltime athletes.
She met the Korean team at Auckland Airport on their arrival and was blown away by the resource of their team which included medics, physios, trainers, coaches and more.
This week’s tournament was a fantastic opportunity for the New Zealand players as it’s the only time they play in a stadium all year and against world-class opposition.
“It can go two ways because sometimes they can say after an event like this I am never going to make it. It is way beyond me, but I hope so,” she said.
“Our kids come off and they say it is so fast and they are so consistent. These guys just read the game so well and they execute. They hit the shuttlecock into the corners and put it where they want. It is a steep learning curve.”
The action begins at 5pm to accommodate the Asian TV audience; the New Zealand Open is being broadcast live to 12 countries through the IMG Network
Badminton Chief Executive Joe Hitchcock said over the next six days, hundreds will compete in front of thousands and this tournament will be seen by millions around the world.
“This is a unique event for New Zealand. No other event has the coverage to key markets that we enjoy. We are excited to take badminton in New Zealand to the world.”
Meanwhile Nigel Skelt, the Head of the Badminton World Federation, congratulated Badminton New Zealand, Carrel and her team for assembling one of the best fields ever seen in this country.
Skelt said the Badminton World Federation holds this particular tournament in very high esteem
“It is hugely important for world badminton that the Oceania region continues to develop. This tournament provides a pathway for not only those playing but to those watching. It goes out to 12 countries which is the largest in the history of any event in this region.”
No one will be more relieved or overjoyed to see the stands full this week than the event director.
Carrel has shown her absolute passionate for the sport by putting her own financial well-being on the line to make it happen.