Badminton Owes Much to Sir George18 August, 2016
With the death on July 23rd of Sir George Thomas, at the advanced age of 91, the Badminton world lost one of its last links, and certainly the greatest by far, with the early days of competitive and organised play.
Few people in any branch of sport have taken such a prominent part in a game as did Sir George over a very long period of time. As all in the world knows, he was the Founder President of the International Badminton Federation (I.B.F.) which he did so much to establish even before the years of its formation in 1934. He occupied the presidential seat for 21 years, after which he insisted on retiring. Prior to his close involvement in the international administration of the game, Sir George had been one of the foremost players of his day during a playing career which lasted about thirty years.
George Alan Thomas, as he was known before he inherited his baronetcy on the death of his father in 1918, was born on June 14th, 1881, in (of all the unlikely places for the Badminton champion he was to become) Istanbul, where his father held a prominent post in the Ottoman Bank. He came to England at the age of 14, but he did not hit the headlines as a sporting personality during his years at Wellington College.
He began to play Badminton at Portsmouth, and it was later one of the great regrets of his Badminton life that he missed competing in the first All England Championships in 1899, for he was still at school, but he did take part in the second tournament a year later without in any way being outstanding.
Badminton was very much in its infancy when he started to play, and the All England Championships in the early days of the century were very correctly named. His first success in them was when he won the mixed doubles in 1903 with Miss Ethel Thomson who became Mrs. D.R. Larcombe in later years. She was a great player at both Badminton and Lawn Tennis, for she won the greatest titles at both sports.
G.A. Thomas participated in all the tournaments that he could,and there were not many in those days. Gradually he climbed to the top, and he was a member of the first England international team which played in Dublin against Ireland early in 1903, but he was left out of the team for the return fixture a year later.
That was the last time that he was not an automatic choice for his country, and not until 1930, when he was in his 49th year and declined to be considered for selection, was an England team ever put on court without him. The statistical figures of the game do not do justice to this long record, because not until Sir George was over 40 did England ever play against any other country; there was only the one fixture against Ireland each season, and this lapsed for five years during the first world war.
In the meantime All England honours were gained aplenty. Between 1903 and 1924 he won 21 in all - in the doubles events with quite a variety of partners - but, though there were those who claimed that he was the leading singles player before the first war, he never then managed to win the great title, always falling to opponents whom he had been able to beat on other occasions. Thus, it was not until he was in his 39th year that he captured the big honour. And, then he won it four times consecutively! He was 41 on the last occasion, easily the oldest champion.
He was a regular competitor in the Irish, Scottish and French Championships too. They were the only tournaments of national championship status which were held during his great career. In them he won no fewer than 69 titles! It would need considerable research to ascertain the number of all his other tournament successes, and the above figures are only given to stress the great place which Sir George occupied in the playing of the game.
Quite early in his career he was elected to the committee of the Badminton Association (as the B.A. of England was then known), and he did a vast amount of work in helping to promote the young game, Furthermore, he was the editor of "The Badminton Gazette" from 1908 to 1915 (except for one season) and for many, many years he was one of England's international selectors, though he declined to accept such a position towards the end of his playing career, only to be quickly re-appointed when he had announced his official retirement from playing.
For many years prior to the formation of the I.B.F. there had existed what was known as the International Board. Its object was to control, rather loosely, the international matches between the countries of the British Isles. Sir George eventually became chairman of this, just as he did later on of the Ail England Championships Committee.
In due course Sir George was elected a vice president of the Badminton Association in 1930, and twenty years later the Association was honoured by his acceptance of the Presidency which he retained, by his own wish, only for two years.
Sir George was of course an Englishman, but in his Badminton outlook he was very much an international. As such he did a tremendous lot to help wherever he could in spreading the popularity of the game. He took teams to France before the first war,and afterwards he was much to the fore when the Danes commenced playing. Then he acted as non-playing captain of several English touring teams to Copenhagen.
Perhaps his greatest work in this respect was when he got up two teams to tour the length and breadth of Canada in 1925 and 1930, and the effect of these tours in Canada was incalculable.
President of the I.B.F.- In the early thirties he was one of the few to realise that the existing Badminton Association was not at all the best adapted administrative organ to govern the game throughout the whole world, and when it was eventually decided to launch an international federation - which was probably the wisest administrative decision ever conceived by the committee of the old Badminton Association, he was the obvious choice for the presidency. His nomination was certainly not due to his title.
Formed in 1934 in a very small way, with only nine founder members, four of which hailed from the countries of the British Isles, Sir George guided the destinies of the not really very lusty body in his usual dignified and calm way. There was really not very much activity in those pre-war days, and the annual meeting and a subsequent committee meeting were both got through in the short space of about two hours after which Sir George would be personal host to the delegates of the few countries at luncheon and then provide many of them with tickets for the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships in the afternoon.
There was really very little to discuss at those early meetings, but when it was proposed by the Canadian B.A. that a complete revision of the Laws of Badminton be undertaken Sir George plunged into this task with remarkable zeal. After a whole series of sub-committee meetings Sir George went to great trouble in writing out the complete set of proposed new laws in his own tiny but immaculate handwriting. They were all cross-referenced and indexed too. This was my own first year as honorary secretary, and it can be imagined that I had no great keenness for the work entailed by the proposed revision.
But Sir George was always most ready to help in a practical way, as for instance when a few years before that he had himself voluntarily taken over the task of attending to the day-to-day work of the Badminton Association when the secretary was ill. Then, too, after he had retired from competing, he used for several years, right up to the outbreak of war, to organise the appointment of umpires at the All England Championships. Against his charm of manner when being asked to officiate at short notice there was no defence.
He Presents The Cup – It was in 1939 at the end of an I.B.F. committee meeting during the All-England Championships that he came up with the suggestion of launching an international championship open to all affiliated nations of the world. He offered then, if some scheme or other could be devised, to donate a trophy for the purpose. That was the beginning of the Thomas Cup, but he was not responsible for the methods and conditions under which it was competed for. He presented his magnificent trophy fifteen months later at the last general meeting to be held before all activity was postponed for the duration of the war.
Sir George never called the competition by the name by which we all know it. To him it was the International Championship and the International Cup, and he himself would never refer to the Thomas Cup. When competition for it was launched in 1948-49 he naturally took the greatest interest and after the final tie that year personally presented specially made silver gilt medals to all the players in the final tie and to a very small number of administrative helpers.
In 1955 he travelled to Malaya, both ways by ship, to see the challenge round, and this visit must have done a lot for the game in that country whose team was then the champion nation.
That was the year in which he refused re-nomination as President of the I.B.F.,but for several years afterwards he was a regular attender at the annual general meetings. He took a very prominent role when the Federation celebrated its silver jubilee in 1959. It was then that he made his last official speech at a Badminton function, and it was clear that he was a happy man at that dinner.
As a chairman of meetings he was very good, always keeping discussion to the point at issue and never permitting matters to get out of hand. He was firm, and yet had that happy knack of putting his views into the heads of others. Undoubtedly too he had foresight, even if he was of conservative nature, but he was quick and decisive in making up his mind.
His Lawn Tennis and Chess Honours - Apart from Badminton, Sir George Thomas was also extremely prominent as a competitor in the top events of both Lawn Tennis and Chess. At the former he played three times for England v. Ireland between 1913 and 1920, and in 1911 he had been a "last eight" man at the Wimbledon Championships. At about that period he enjoyed several successes over Davis Cup players (who were few enough in those days)but he never achieved selection for the British team.
At Chess he gained his first selection for England in 1910, and later represented his country many times. Twice he won the British Chess Championship, in 1923 and 1934, and on other occasions he had been runner-up. For many years he had been a Life Vice-President of the British Chess Federation of which he was also a past President.
He was interested in numerous other sports, notably Boxing, at the leading events of which he was a regular spectator, and I remember how thrilled he was one Saturday evening in Glasgow in 1949 when Portsmouth first got to the top of the Football League; he had seen the club's first game exactly fifty years earlier and had followed their fortunes ever since.
In 1923 Sir George Thomas was the author of ''The Art of Badminton", a standard book at the time, but perhaps a little out of date now.He also wrote many articles on Badminton for various publications, and without doubt many were those who acquired benefit from his pen.
During the First World War Sir George Thomas had seen service in both India and the Middle East, and over a period of many years he had taken great practical interest in boys' clubs in London. He was ever interested in youth, and for many years was a regular spectator at Junior Badminton and Lawn Tennis championships.
He never married and must have suffered much in his later years when his eyesight was greatly impaired, but he always remained the charming
gentleman of another age. In some way she was very Victorian, as for instance his intense dislike of the telephone and his habit of calling his closer friends by their initials.
During the last few years of his long life he had suffered several "black-outs" and was consequently obliged to leave his flat an
With his passing the Badminton world has lost a very great friend and a very great gentleman, and it is fortunate indeed that in the circles of the game hisd live at a nursing home, and about a year before his death his real home was burgled and most of his treasured trophies were stolen. That was a terrible blow to him.
name will never diefor as long as Badminton is played there will be a Thomas Cup which will from now on assume added reverence by way of being also a permanent memorial to the "GRAND OLD MAN" that he undoubtedly was.
-- H.A.E. Scheele, Editor World Badminton, Oct 1972