Gail Emms is still simmering with rage at UK Sports’ decision to cut badminton’s funding to zero, and not just at the decision but the way the bombshell announcement was handled. The 2004 Olympic silver medallist provides an insider’s view on the uproar of the last few days and demands greater transparency from sports’ paymasters
Friday morning, at about 12.30pm, a friend phoned me. The conversation went like this:
Friend: Oh my God!!! The funding for badminton!!! Can you believe it??
Me: Eh?? What the hell are you talking about?
Friend: The UK Sport funding. Badminton has been cut to NOTHING!!
Me: Eh?? Think you’ve got that wrong. I’ll call you back.
What followed was perhaps the most strange, gut-wrenching, and emotional 12 hours of mu life. I spent much of it talking to the media about the sport that I have loved since I was four years old, and that has been a massive part of my life. My friend, unfortunately, was right. Badminton had had its UK Sport funding cut from £5 million to absolute zero.
I have been retired from the sport for eight years, but I am still involved with badminton, sometimes a lot, and other times not so much. I am a Badminton England Ambassador and I sit on the GB Badminton Board. I have a bungee rope labelled badminton attached to my heart; sometimes I am stretched far away with other work commitments, but as soon as something happens it pulls me right back.
UK Sport funds the elite side of sport. The funding allocation has nothing to do with how many players participate, how many kids play at school or anything on the grassroots side – that is Sport England. UK Sport cares about medals and that is why Team GB’s most successful Olympic sports, such as rowing and cycling – despite the latter’s trim this time round – receive a lot more than others.
But there is no way of knowing what will happen at the next Olympic Games – there is no crystal ball or Mystic Meg, so every sport has to predict what might occur in the next four-year cycle and the funding is based on that.
In Rio this year, badminton won one bronze medal. The target was a quarter-final place and/or a medal, and this was achieved by Marcus Ellis and Chris Langridge. It was a shock bronze medal, yes, but still a medal. For a minority sport, where medals don’t come easily, this was a major boost. The mood at the National Badminton Centre was positive and everyone was looking forward to building on the success of Marcus and Chris towards Tokyo in 2020.
I was in a GB Board meeting on Wednesday with the chief executive Adrian Christy, performance director Jon Austin and GB Badminton Board chairman Steven Baddeley. We were discussing the expected £5 million funding and how this is going to move GB badminton forward for Tokyo. Para-badminton has now been introduced to the Paralympics and this was one of the items on the agenda: to discuss how much funding to allocate in that direction.
So what the hell now? Where does this leave badminton? Para-badminton? It leaves it in a very difficult place indeed. The shockwaves this announcement caused are huge. Players, staff and coaches were all in tears. What angers me so much is the way UK Sport handled this. They must have known about this decision for a few days before telling badminton. But to let a sport’s governing body believe they were in a good place, to say well done for over-achieving in Rio, to not have the courtesy to warn the sport, the people involved and maybe have a conversation about what to do next …
Instead, there was a phone call on Friday morning, after the staff Christmas party, with the news followed swiftly by the media descending on people completely unprepared to answer their questions. Absolutely bloody disgraceful. No sport should be treated like that. No sport should have to call an emergency meeting, and then warn players and staff that this will be the end of the performance programme as there will be no more money from March 2017.
Badminton will appeal. But UK Sport need to look at the criteria and start treating sports in a fair manner and not just look at a few chosen sports. No one can predict the future; UK Sport shouldn’t believe they can.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gail Emms MBE is one of Britain’s most successful badminton players, best remembered for her silver medal in the mixed doubles at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. With partner Nathan Robertson, she won gold at the World Championships in 2006, the Commonwealth Games in the same year, and the European Championships in 2004. Gail was six times national mixed doubles champion and national ladies doubles champion five times. Since retiring after the Beijing Olympic Games, Gail has been a versatile sports presenter on a variety of television and radio programmes. She was awarded the MBE for services to badminton in 2009. She is the mother of two boys. Gail’s latest articles