Rings of Gold – Beijing Olympic Review15 April, 2016
No Olympics has provided such superb facilities, such big crowds, or such a consistently high profile for badminton as Beijing did in 2008.
Staging the Games in the world's largest and most successful badminton nation had clearly raised hopes of immense benefit for the sport, and these were superbly realised. The venue and the technical delivery were those of a country of many resources and great passion for the sport.
Venues were full for every session. The spectators were the most involved and the most astute so far, because badminton is widely played in China, and of course China did extremely well. These were great bonuses. It was often inspiring.
There were however other issues with a more mixed blessing. It is good that badminton is so strong in Asia, but the Olympics reflected something slightly different - that we are very much an Asian sport. And greater universality within sports is a strong ambition of the International Olympic Committee.
Badminton has nevertheless managed to achieve much greater diversity by getting its Olympic qualification system changed after the 2004 Games at Athens. The balance between singles and doubles was altered, allowing more singles players to be included in the quota of 172. This meant many more passports - mostly from continents other than Asia - making 50 altogether compared with 32 in Athens and 29 in Sydney.
This shift very considerably increased the number of badminton players worldwide that may dream about - and work hard towards qualifying for the Olympic Games.
It happened like this. The qualifying systems developed in 1987, after badminton won the right to join the Olympics, brought a quick increase in the number of BWF sanctioned competitions in the calendar. Continental Confederations and national federations created tournaments and circuits to provide their players with opportunities for world ranking points and Olympic places.
This brought a large increase in the numbers of players competing internationally. It also improved playing standards, particularly around the borderlines for Olympic qualification, due to better preparation, more focused coaching, and competition against better opponents.
A fourth effect of the Olympics qualifying system was much better support for players' training and competition programmes from national Olympic committees. A fifth was an increase in prize money, because the higher the prize money, the greater the world ranking points available.
But after three successful systems - for Atlanta, Sydney and Athens, with only small changes since the sport's Olympic debut in Barcelona - the BWF decided it was time to take the next step to develop the game.
Because players from larger and more successful nations dominated doubles events - they had established doubles training with internal competition - success for players from developing badminton associations is more achievable in singles, provided they work hard, travel and train abroad.
And so, post-Athens, the balance between singles and doubles in the Olympic qualifying system was changed, with 38 players qualifying in men's and women's singles and 16 pairs in each of the doubles events. Additional places which became available were allocated to singles only.
Many more singles players worldwide realised in 2006 that with this change their goal of qualifying for the Olympics had become more achievable at Beijing 2008, and consequently badminton saw another major increase in international competition participation worldwide, with focus on singles events.
About 20 more national Olympic committees proved they could get players to qualify for the Games. Perhaps another 20 will realise that with a similar system likely for the London 2012 Olympics, they too may stand a chance.
But inevitably there is a dilemma. For the Olympic Games to remain badminton's top event it has to ensure that those countries with a large number of world class performers can still ensure all the world's best have the chance to qualify.
"We don't want them training for 10 or 12 years and missing out on the chance because their country has four of the top ten and two can't go,"said BWF Secretary General, Stuart Borrie.
The trick is therefore to keep one eye on universality and the other upon the quality of the entry, ensuring the best players can take part. That, afterall, is not only fair, it is what makes the best television.
True, all the medals in Beijing went to Asians. At the Athens Olympics there had been three medals for non-Asian nations, but there were none in 2008. But one fear did not materialise. It was thought that China, with a home venue and great crowd support, might swamp everything as happened at the world championships in Beijing two decades previously. China won seven medals in Athens and eight in Beijing. Strong resistance was provided by Indonesia and Korea, and especially by Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia in the men's singles.
It is also true that Koreans and Indonesians won medals previously won by Europeans, which is a concern,given the need for a wider spread of medals. But it was a positive thing that Malaysia, with Lee's silver, achieved its best medal success so far.
So there are contrasting lessons. In some ways the Beijing Games were the best ever - and yet there has to be a deeper understanding of how to build badminton in different parts of the world.
Nations like Denmark and England, as well as Germany and France, and as many others as possible, have to build their base and their pathways to the elite level, so that badminton gets productive finishes from another country in the 2012, 2016 and 2020 Olympics.
Badminton has not been in the Olympic movement for long. Much work is required to ensure it spreads the medals wider. But the BWF knows it must reflect on these things and communicate them to its members.
-- By Richard Eaton - International Badminton - The First 75 Years