Member Insights: Thomas Lund, Secretary General of the Badminton World Federation, Reviews The Sport’s 2019 And Looks Ahead To 2020
By Community | December 9, 2019
With the 2019 BWF World Tour Finals starting on Wednesday in Guangzhou, China, iSportconnect decided it would be a good time to talk to Thomas Lund, Secretary General of the BWF, about how the sport has developed and progressed throughout the past 12 months and take the opportunity to look ahead at everything to come in 2020 for Badminton.
What have been the biggest changes within badminton during 2019?
It’s been a year where we have focused on growing our existing assets including hosting thrilling Major Championships with the TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup 2019 in Nanning, China, the TOTAL BWF World Championships together with the TOTAL BWF Word Para Badminton Championships in Basel, Switzerland, and further building the HSBC BWF World Tour to reach out to even more global fans.
Our new AirBadminton project was launched in May this year and is one of the exciting new participation initiatives aimed at making badminton even more accessible with more people able to get more enjoyment from badminton by playing in an outdoor environment. With the launch of AirBadminton we hope to see it thrive in all badminton markets and we are delighted to see positive reaction to some of the first AirBadminton competitions and we hope this can also become a new exciting part of badminton’s future.
Which area of progression have you been most pleased about recently?
We are extremely satisfied with the successful staging of the TOTAL BWF World Championships 2019 and TOTAL BWF Para Badminton World Championships 2019 concurrently for the very first time. Some 384 badminton players competed in the TOTAL BWF World Championships and close to 300 Para badminton athletes took to the courts in Basel, Switzerland, competing in 22 wheelchair and standing events. It was seven days of thrilling badminton and Para badminton action that showcased some of the most exciting matches seen in the sport and we believe it’s one of the first times that a Para Sport World Championships has been integrated fully into an able-bodied World Championships.
For us this is a reflection of unity and diversity in badminton, and that Para badminton is now completely in sync with the BWF. The focus now turns to both badminton and Para badminton being showcased at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, with Para badminton making its debut on the Paralympic sports programme. Earlier this year we also heard of the inclusion of Para badminton at Paris 2024 and this provides us with a great opportunity to build upon all the hard work that has been done in the lead up to Tokyo 2020 and to continue to create awareness of the sport and our development initiatives for the foreseeable future.
How do you continue to grow fan engagement at the BWF?
According to our 2018 Global Badminton Study conducted by Nielsen Sports, research has shown that outside of China, badminton is experiencing large-scale growth. The fan base is estimated to be 681 million across seven regions based on sample surveys conducted in 21 badminton markets globally. This is an increase of around 37% since 2015 on those same 21 markets. For 2018, the survey added 15 additional markets, increasing the badminton fan base by 54 million and bringing the total number of badminton fans globally in 35 markets to be an estimated 735 million fans across seven regions. In fact, we are now ranked third behind football and basketball and ahead of tennis, motorsport and golf in terms of total fans when measured in those 21 key countries.
One area we are behind on is leveraging influencers and utilising athletes as ambassadors to get more people talking about badminton. This is something we are working very hard on at the moment…
Our next efforts are to tell the world about this. Our digital and TV coverage is the biggest it has ever been and with superstars like Pusarla V Sindhu who is ranked 13th in Forbes’ Highest-Paid Female Athletes list for 2019 with US$5.5 million in earnings, we feel badminton is starting to be talked about more and more. Our simple strategy to capitalise on this is to strengthen the bond between our fans and our athletes, so our stars are more accessible to the world. And this includes converting the huge number of active participants we have globally into everyday fans. One area we are behind on is leveraging influencers and utilising athletes as ambassadors to get more people talking about badminton. This is something we are working very hard on at the moment and are looking forward to unveiling some exciting new projects very soon.
How much of a focus do you place on social media to grow the sport?
We see the digital sphere as being a crucial asset to communicate with the younger generation and to target new and potential fan bases. We are placing considerable resources into improving and expanding our existing digital and social media presence and over the course of the next 12 months you will begin to see exciting new developments both on our Anglophone and Chinese platforms. Naturally, there’s huge potential in China with an existing participation group of around 149.4 million. As we start to build our digital presence and fully utilise the capabilities of digital and social media platforms in China, as well as bringing the athlete-fan relationship close together, we feel we will start to see a shift in our online fan numbers, too.
Are there any big changes you are going to implement in the next 12 months?
In the first quarter of 2020, we expect the first AirShuttles to be on the shelf and available for public purchase. AirBadminton, and specifically the creation of the AirShuttle, is BWF’s ambitious new development project designed to create opportunities for people of all ages and ability to play badminton on hard, grass and sand surfaces in parks, gardens, streets, playgrounds and beaches around the world. We had the Global Launch in May 2019 using a number of prototype AirShuttles and since then, the emphasis has been on working with leading sports manufacturers to mass produce and rollout the AirShuttle.
The project has been five years in the making, starting with a vision to develop a new outdoor shuttlecock with increased durability, stability and wind resistance to allow people to have a more positive experience of badminton outdoors. The main considerations were that it must be played with the same rackets and have good flight performance, spin response and durability. We fully acknowledge that playing badminton is not a new concept, in fact, many children’s first exposure to badminton is in an outdoor environment, but for us it’s about creating a product that is more suitable for everyone to play in an outdoor environment. Right now, we are still on our original timeline and we expect the mass production of the AirShuttle to begin at the end of 2019 with the shuttle available to the public in the first quarter of 2020. In the meantime, we have sufficient samples to continue the testing and piloting process of AirBadminton and the AirShuttle.
What are you most looking forward to in 2020, how much of a focus does the Olympics take?
Our aim is to continue the growth of badminton as forecasted in our strategic plans. The Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games are of course a big highlight next year, and the fact Para badminton is debuting at Tokyo 2020 is certainly a landmark occasion for our sport. It is fantastic for our players and wider badminton community to be accepted into the Paralympic Games and to be part of the programme. Japan is also a fitting backdrop to present our Olympic and Paralympic disciplines where Japan has for many years been hosting numerous tournaments being considered among the best and most prestigious tournaments by our players. Regarding the Olympics, we are very much looking forward to the badminton competition at Tokyo 2020. With Japan’s fantastic pedigree in the sport and recent successes, the atmosphere at the Musashino Forest Sport Plaza will be amazing.
Both the Olympics and the Paralympics do assume a large chunk of our focus for a 12 month period with a lot of planning, preparation and coordination with the hosts taking place, but we are also very mindful of all other aspects of the organisation where we will continue to develop and grow the HSBC BWF World Tour and before Tokyo 2020 we will invite our fans to experience the crowning of new world team champions at the thrilling TOTAL BWF Thomas & Uber Cups competitions being hosted in Aarhus, Denmark, in May. All of these core tournament activities provide a great platform to promote the sport and to increase our efforts of getting more people to play more badminton.