Gail Emms is flabbergasted at UK Sport’s refusal to overturn their zero funding for badminton to prepare for the Tokyo Olympic Games. She hoped for a change of heart, but those with the money insist badminton cannot guarantee success in 2020. The silver medallist from Athens 2004 is not impressed
I have been dreading this day. Ever since the initial announcement from UK Sport back in December that they were going to cut badminton’s funding from £5.7 million to nothing. Even though there was devastation then, there was always optimism that the appeal would help UK Sport see that they made the wrong decision and that badminton deserved to be funded to help the players get to Tokyo 2020 in the best possible shape to be in contention for medals.
UK Sport came back with their verdict yesterday: they had decided that within GB badminton there is only a ‘possible’ chance of a medal and not a ‘probable’ chance. Excuse me? I’m sorry but I was only a ‘possible’ chance of a medal back in 2004. I was ranked in the world top five in the mixed doubles with Nathan Robertson, pre-Athens. Currently Chris and Gabby Adcock are ranked sixth in the world. Many Team GB athletes have been ‘possible’ chances of medals, but you know what? We took that ‘possible’ chance and performed for Team GB and produced the goods in the shape of a silver medal.
There have been many cases of athletes who are ‘dead certs’ and do not, for some reason, get the result that is expected. It could be nerves, it could be an injury, or maybe the ‘possible’ chance outshone them. That is the beauty of sport: the uncertainty, the unpredictability, the underdog comes through, the passion and the journey of the athletes involved. The UK Sport system requires each sport to predict an outcome in four years’ time – but can anyone really do that? In that case you could argue, with correct funding, there is always the opportunity to upgrade from a ‘possible’ to a ‘probable’ chance of a medal in that time?
I have been a fan of the UK Sport system, but I am now wondering where the line is when it comes to this ruthlessness. I am beginning to miss the amateur days where we as a nation were so happy to win any medal. You knew the struggle, the pain, the blood, sweat and tears, and you felt it with them. Nowadays, it’s a different story: there were 27 gold medals in Rio last summer – but who can name all of those winners? Silvers and bronzes may as well forget it. Don’t bother. In this ‘Simon Cowell’ judging system, if it ain’t gold, we don’t wanna know.
Badminton as a sport will now be four years behind for the next Olympic cycle. Redundancies have had to be made and the top coaches have all re-located. So even if some money is given after Tokyo, it will be to play catch-up. There is no reason at all to cut the funding to absolutely nothing and leave the sport in the situation it is in now. It is harsh, and, in my view, unnecessary. There could very easily be a way of funding a sport minimally. Then, if it starts producing results and the ‘possible’ chances start to improve, then more money can be allocated. The same goes for those sports who have got the funding: if they start under-preforming, the money can be reduced. But at least there would be a continuing programme in place.
To judge the future of a sport, its elite players, and top juniors on ‘possible’ and not ‘probable’, in a sport where it is about beating opponents in a match with tactics and strategy, is hard, don’t get me wrong. But, if there is a chance, and with sport, there is always a chance, then fund. Keep the belief.
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