The Story of Court Officials04 May, 2016
Although the International Badminton Federation (IBF) was formed in July 1934 it did not organise competitive events until after the second world war, and so did not involve itself with court officials, referees, and umpires until after that time.
Nevertheless, long before the IBF came into being, there was a desire for competitive play. The first rules were drawn up in England, in 1877, by Colonel H.O. Selby of the Royal Engineers, but inter-club matches were played prior to that, with varying rules and varying sizes of court.
The formation of the Badminton Association at a meeting in Southsea, England in 1893 led to standardising the rules and the size of the court, increasing the need for court officials.
It was after the first open tournament, open to members of all clubs, which took place over one day only at Guildford, England in 1898, that the Badminton Association decided it should get involved.
Its first effort was the inaugural All-England Championship at the Horticultural Halls in London, in 1899. The appointment of referees does not appear to have been considered at this time, with all arrangements and officiating being down to "the committee"!
Photographs of the time show what could be considered the first court officials, standing between courts acting as scorers. Court lines were chalked by committee members before play could begin and needed constant renewal during the day.
The first championships involved only doubles, but singles was added the following year. As other national associations emerged so more championship tournaments joined the calendar. The Irish started theirs in the 1901-02 season, followed by the Scots in 1906-07 and the French in 1908-09. The first recorded international match was played in 1902-3 in Ireland, who played England.
By now court officials were beginning to appear. Mr. W. Littlejohn was appointed honorary referee of the inaugural Scottish Championships - and must have made a good impression because records show that he went on to referee the All-England in 1910, almost certainly the first foreign court official to be appointed.
Play was severely curtailed by the 1914-18 war but made a hesitant resumption in 1919. The number of tournaments increased and specialist court officials evolved through experience rather than training.
This progress continued to such an extent that the more forward looking of The Badminton Association committee, led by Sir George Thomas and Mr. A.D. Prebble, overcame the objections of the die-hards and drafted a constitution for a new international body to be called The International Badminton Federation (IBF).
This finally happened at an historic meeting at Bush House, London, England on 5 July 1934 at which the Badminton Association renounced its international remit and also donated £200 to help the new organisation.
More countries,both those affiliated to the new international federation and those outside, developed internal competitions and appointed untrained members of "the committee" to officiate.
In 1938 the IBF took a major step towards developing competition and court officials by appointing Herbert Scheele (England) as its honorary secretary. No one was more knowledgeable regarding the rules and laws or insistent that they were followed to the letter. Hence the need for competent court officials.
The second World War brought the Federation's activities virtually to a halt, particularly in most of Europe. But come 1945, under Scheele's dynamic leadership, the Federation moved to develop the competitive game worldwide.
The annual general meeting of 1946 was attended by only seven of the 15-member national associations, and the growth of tournaments was hampered by a post-war shortage of serviceable venues and an acute shortage of shuttlecocks.
Despite this the Federation announced its first ever world event, a men's team championship to be known as the Thomas Cup with national teams competing for a trophy presented by Sir George Thomas, the long serving IBF President. Because of post-war problems it was decided to delay the launch until the 1948-49 season, when ten countries entered.
Out of deference to the cup's donor it was agreed that the inter-zone ties take place in Great Britain just prior to the All England Championships of 1949. Herbert Scheele was appointed honorary referee, the first of many such appointments.
Scheele built up a reputation as a referee who was tough but fair though this was certainly put to the test in 1967, when the Thomas Cup finals took place in the 12,000 seat Senayan Stadium in Jakarta with Malaysia and Indonesia reaching the challenge round tie.
All went well on the first days, after which Malaysia had established a 3-1 lead. The visitors increased their lead to 4-1 by winning the first singles on the second day and looked well on their way to victory.
However the Indonesians took then ext two singles to narrow the Malaysian lead to 4-3. After an interval the first doubles of the evening took to the court. For Malaysia Ng Boon Bee and Tan Yee Khan demolished Susanto and Muljadi in the first game 15-2 in just eleven minutes.
Their domination continued until they reached 10-2 in the second game, only five points away from winning the tie. Then it was that the crowd got quite out of hand.
To quote the referee's report: "The shouting, the waving, the booing, the stamping and the letting off of flash bulbs all started then, and the Malaysians became extremely nervous. Both served into the net through sheer nervousness. No longer was this match a sporting contest, and the appeals of the umpire, Tom Bacher (Denmark) went quite unheeded by the great crowd. Indeed, if anything, his appeals made their behaviour worse."
From 2-10 the Indonesians went on to win the second game but referee Herbert Scheele declined to let play re-start. His decision to abandon the match was supported by the IBF Council and the tie was awarded to Malaysia 6-3. The following day Scheele was provided with an armed police escort from his hotel to Jakarta Airport.
International matches continued to increase in number, particularly in Europe, and in 1950 a prominent England player Betty Uber offered to provide a trophy for a world team event for ladies. Acceptance was delayed for fear that the financial commitment would be too great for many countries, but the competition eventually took to the courts in the 1956-57 season, the first winner being the United States.
With the number of open championships continuing to increase, reconised referees and umpires started to appear, provided by the home nation and self-taught rather than formally trained. Some umpires had little or no qualification to perform the job, and the job was sometimes performed merely by people who were available or who wanted to do it.
The training of court officials, particularly of umpires, increased during the 1970's with the formation of umpires' associations, particularly in European countries, and the need for this increased in 1979 when badminton went open.
The first open event was the Friends Provident Masters at the Royal Albert Hall in London in September 1979. Tennis had declared itself open eleven years earlier, enabling badminton to learn from its mistakes.
Now the stakes were higher with increasing prize money, and the organisation of umpires accelerated with the setting-up of the International Badminton Umpires' Organisation (IBUO) during the Thomas Cup final at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 1982.
This was largely the work of IBF Vice-President Roy Ward from Australia, who included amongst the stated aims not only improved methods of training and assessing, but ways of defining umpire ranking criteria to establish a worldwide classification, and being available if invited to assist in the organisation of tournaments.
The first assessments of candidates took place at the World Championships in Copenhagen in 1983 and at the Thomas and Uber Cup Finals in Kuala Lumpur in 1984,producing 20 certificated umpires from 11 different countries and nine accredited umpires from six different countries.This has risen to 52 certificated umpires from 27 different countries and 45 accredited umpires from 29 countries, with all five continents represented.
Now that prize money had to be raised and sponsors found, events had to become more media friendly, particularly towards television companies. This meant a subtle change in attitude was needed, particularly from certain referees.
At the All-England Championships at Wembley Arena the referee, the one and only Herbert Scheele, was heard to respond to a polite enquiry from a distinguished BBC television producer, who requested consideration of a certain order of play for the finals, by informing him that "this tournament is for the players, not for television".
Sponsors and television looked for more attractive presentation, and no longer just a court laid on bare boards with a rusty tea urn and plastic cups at the side. Special lighting, coloured carpets with court-side flowers made the game look more professional and helped it fight for its all-important share of coverage.
Line judges, an important part of match presentation, now appeared in smart uniforms and were introduced on to court rather than strolling on carrying programmes, handbags, and the weekly shopping". The need to inform the audience of umpires' decisions brought the creation of a set of service judges' signals for service faults.
A big change was caused by badminton getting into the Olympics in 1992. Expectations increased, and there was a steep learning curve in terms of the pressure encountered. A greater intensity emerged with more at stake. A greater degree of psychology became part of the job. Around 1990 Arthur Jones took the initiative to formally organise the referees, in a system parallel to the IBUO.
The two were amalgamated by 1994 as the Court Officials Committee (COC). Lau Teng Chuan of Singapore became the first chairman, followed by Torsten Berg and Paisan Rangsikitpho. The chairman now is Torsten Berg.
Refereeing too is a growing area, especially with the establishment of the BWF Super Series, and within the COC there are now also eight certificated referees worldwide and 22 accredited.
BWF training courses for referees have been for some while including sessions on what tournament directors and television would require from the referee, if standards of presentation are to be improved. That is something which has to happen year on year.
-- By Tom Marrs - International Badminton - The First 75 Years