Mr Badminton - Herbert Scheele30 August, 2016
Herbert Scheele is remembered as a man who got world badminton moving back in the 1930's. He knew almost all there was to know about the sport, helped quadruple its size in nearly four decades of monumentally devoted service to the governing body, and lent his name to an award for special contributions to it. Yet he was not quite the person he appeared.
Renowned for diligently administering an expanding international sport with little and sometimes no payment, for refereeing tournaments all over the world with tough-minded fairness, and for organising everything with ruthless efficiency, he lived - amazingly - in something close to chaos.
Those who visited him at his home in Bromley would wonder with amusement how someone with the tidiest of minds could survive amidst a flurry of paper, pencils, folders, files, magazines, mos, books, biros, cases, correcting fluid, letters, envelopes, erasers, elastic bands and staples, but most of all paper - paper, paper, paper.
Though the world was his ambit, Scheele administered it all from the living room and the dining room in a Victorian semi-detached house in suburban Kent. Superficially it suggested that the furthest limit of its owner's existence could be commuting to London from a catchment dormitory.
In fact, as IBF secretary from 1938 to 1976, Scheele travelled to dozens of countries, spoke excellent German, learned a little Danish, had a smattering of other languages, confronted some of the sport's most intractable international problems, and developed a reputation for fairness, firmness, and self-denying effort.
Tributes tell of one of the greatest of administrators, of a man with exceptional knowledge, devotion to duty, courage, and singleness of purpose. He was certainly the outstanding figure in badminton for 38 years.
And yet the only help he received was from his wife Betty - only, because the tasks they performed would ordinarily have required an entire secretariat. They each did the work of two people so assiduously that records, information and materials overflowed inelegantly into the other downstairs room as well, then into the spare bedrooms upstairs and eventually into the garden shed.
For this unorthodoxy they were given some expenses, though they were fairly nominal. It is hard for us to comprehend, in these professional days, how much of their own finances and effort they invested in the leisure, pleasure and fulfilment of badminton players everywhere. The couple had no children.
After the Second World War, Scheele added to his commitments. He restarted the IBF handbook almost single-handedly, producing a remarkable 400-page edition, and also edited the Badminton Gazette, an English publication which was a unique source of information and entertainment.
He also became the first paid secretary of the Badminton Association of England in 1945. But paid was an exaggeration. He did it mostly out of love, and many grew to love him in return. Others certainly respected him, for he tolerated no nonsense.
He was tough and he could be brusque.He had little time for foolishness or incompetence, still less for lateness, particularly at the All-England championships, the world's top tournament in those days, which he refereed for 33 years. Friend or not, it made no difference - if you were 20 minutes late you would be scratched.
And yet he had away with many people. It was said that he could speak to an Indonesian official, an English umpire, a Malaysian player, or a Danish team leader and get a positive response from all of them.
To him, the game and the players always came first and he would never subordinate them to his own requirements, or those of the media, or even of spectators.
But this could make him dogmatic. He did not, for instance, always have a vision of how television and sponsorship were starting to become important for badminton's progress.
Once when a TV producer wanted to discover whether a match might be scheduled before 3pm, so that badminton had a chance of preceding football and getting on air, Scheele replied: "This tournament is for the players and that's the only thing which matters. I'm not interested in the BBC or anything else."
There were other paradoxes. Scheele ran things with a semi-military discipline, yet his appearance could be unkempt. His hair, once described as "leonine", did indeed look as though it could grow into a mane, while flecks of ash sometimes fell from the cigarette in his mouth onto his clothes.
When you approached his desk it could be surrounded by clouds of smoke. Rarely was it surrounded by many people, however, because issues were usually dealt with so pithily.
He was not afraid to disappoint people, in the cause of fairness, and would not be intimidated. He would judge things and tell of them as he saw it.
One famous former player said of him: "At our age you could be a bit disrespectful, but now I realise just how much we owed him. He was the father of badminton, not just in England but worldwide." Another said: "I loved him to bits, but he could be severe."
Scheele's knowledge of the laws, history, and rules and regulations was unsurpassed, making him invaluable to countries and council members almost everywhere. He acquired such a reputation for reliability and integrity that he was asked to referee tournaments in many countries.
This meant that sometimes he would have to work in conditions which were adverse. Everything was done in an amateur way in those days; tournaments often had to begot ready and run just by Herbert and Betty.
They devoted so much of themselves to badminton that Betty continued to keep a close contact with the sport for more than a quarter of a century after she was widowed.
This two-person team would make the draw, using an ancient typewriter, and do the seedings based on their own research and judgements. A typical scene was Betty calling out: "Herbert, this machine isn't very good - you'll have to slow down'"
Work in different countries could inevitably bring misunderstanding and conflict too. But no one could have predicted the traumatic incident in 1967 when Scheele halted the Thomas Cup tie between Indonesia and Malaysia at the lstora Senayan in Jakarta, and then, after the home team declined to restart, awarded victory to the visitors.
It happened as the visitors were poised to win, with spectators "shouting, waving, booing, stamping, letting off flash bulbs", according to Scheele. When it reached a level he regarded as unfair, he took a decision which caused fury among thousands of people.
The description of the noise does not sound very different from what happens during many passionate Thomas Cup ties these days, and so one wonders, more than 40 years later, whether a referee would make a similar decision now.
Scheele was, like all of us, partly a product of his own time and place, and may have been influenced by the hush with which some Europeans, in those days at least, tended to watch Wimbledon and other big racket sports events.
Times have changed in epoch-making ways, empires have faded, nation-building has gathered pace, and attitudes have transformed. But unpopular though Scheele became for this confrontational decision, his courage was undeniable. Nor could one deny his many achievements.
During his time, IBF membership rose from 14 to 55, the Thomas and Uber Cups team competitions were initiated, and the World Championships, which started the year after he resigned, were planned. The question of open badminton was also discussed.
Scheele showed a different kind of courage when, hampered by a serious back problem, he discharged himself from hospital to make his 25th appearance at the All England championships. Although the affliction remained, he continued travelling around the world, sometimes limping from his referee's table to arbitrate, congratulate, or commiserate with players.
When presented with a silver salver by the IBF for a quarter of a century's devoted work, Scheele expressed pleasure that badminton had been included in both the Asian and Commonwealth Games. This was something he thought would lead to entry into the Olympics. He was very right.
His retirement in 1976 - not long before the IBF and the WBF split asunder - was never quite a full retirement, because he was not made that way, and because he became an advisory Vice President to the IBF until his death in 1981.
You always felt there might be something signal about his passing. Four months after receiving the Order of the British Empire from the Queen at Buckingham Palace, an occasion of life-defining joy for him, he died. Almost exactly as the 1981 All-England men's singles final got underway - on time of course, and perhaps he sensed that - he was gone.
-- Richard Eaton – International Badminton... The First 75 Years