Close to forty years ago, there were suggestions that football goalposts should be lengthened to ensure there more goals being scored, hence making the game more exciting.
The suggestion was widely panned with one former English legend saying: “This is what you get when you allow idiots who have never kicked a ball in their lives to decide how the games is played.”
The idea was mooted again by Sepp Blatter, who in an interview with the German magazine Stern in 1996 said that “the guardians of the rules are in agreement to lengthen the goals by the diameter of two balls, around 50cm, and to increase the height by the diameter of one ball”.
Once again the idea was panned. Such was the uproar that the plan was immediately shelved.
The Badminton World Federation (BWF) in just a space of four years have twice failed to change the scoring format of the game from 3 x 21 to 5 x 11.
Back in 2018, they proposal was rejected after garnering only 129 of the 252 votes cast. This time around the proposal received 66.31 per cent for and 33.69 per cent against, falling just short of the two-thirds majority required.
The 5 x 11 format, a personal pet project of the BWF president Poul-Eric Hoyer-Larsen, is bound to be proposed again before his new term as the president ends in 2024. The upcoming years, will no doubt would be used to convince more nations to support the move.
This is not the first time that the BWF have tried to tinker the scoring system.
The original scoring system in badminton dates back to as early as 1873. A match or rubber is decided by the best of three games. Each game was played to 15 points in the case of men’s singles and any doubles games. In the case of ladies’ singles, a game was played to 11 points.
The BWF was already looking to change the scoring format in the 1990s, with various format – 3 x 21, 5 x 7 and 5 x 11 – all being tested and studied.
In 2002, the International Badminton Federation (now BWF) experimented with the 5 x 7 format to to improve the commercial and especially the broadcasting appeal of the sport. But the experiment was dropped after the 2002 Commonwealth Games.
And in 2006, it decided that the 3 x 21 format was the best of the lot. But less than a decade later the BWF was of the opinion that there was a need to tinker with the scoring format once again. And since 2014, the BWF has been trying to get the 5 x 11 format introduced.
One of the key reasons for the change was that the current format allowed for matches that were way too lengthy, the same reason why it was changed from 3 x 15 to 3 x 21.
So there is no reason to believe that a few years down the road when players adapt to any new scoring format, including the 3 x 11, and the length of matches increase, the BWF may start looking to tinker the system again.
The decision to tinker with the rules is important for any sports to stay relevant in the modern sporting arena. But changing rules in such a quick pace is what becomes a bother for many.
Tennis has made numerous changes to the scoring system, but nothing fundamental has been changed. The key changes has been only on the tie-breakers. Other than that, it is virtually the same it has been since the 15th century. Table tennis changed the scoring rules of the game from the traditional 21-points to 11-points scoring system in 2001.
Neither organisation has made continuous tinkering of the system their main agenda.
That very little consultation was made with the players themselves before bulldozing the proposal through was also a major fault in the BWF’s modus operandi.
Former world champion and current world number two Viktor Axelsen, was among the few players, who had voiced out his displeasure with the move to change the scoring format.
The 27-year-old former world champion took a swipe at BWF by saying that players do not have a strong voice when it came to institutional changes at the highest level.
In his social media posting, Axelsen said: “We are way too weak as players in this sport. Our Players Association should be way stronger and we should stand together and demand that we have a say when it comes to decisions like this one… and many others. Right now everything has to go through the associations (national). This big decision about the scoring system… it is also not possible for us, as players to vote.”
The BWF itself had admitted prior to the vote that they had not consulted players thoroughly on the matter.
Indian national coach Pullela Gopichand, who has been credited with producing world-class players like Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu and Kidambi Srikanth was also not in favour of the change.
“The present system of 21 x 3 has been working fine, and the sport has grown steadily in the past few years, There are a lot of things that could be done, rather than change the scoring system,” he had said.
The All-Indonesia Badminton Association (PBSI) were among the sponsors of the resolution to change the scoring format, but it was also not supported by the legendary Susi Susanti.
“What is the urgency of changing the format when the game’s popularity is on the ascendency? I am looking from all angles. If the game is popular, accepted and can maintain its position at the Olympics, why the change?” she said earlier last month.
“The effect will be that badminton will not have an identity of its own. It was originally 15-points, then various formats were tried, from seven, nine, 11 until the 21 points system was accepted. Of course it would take a long time for the 21 points to be adapted to its fullest extent. I am afraid, if the changes results in the game being less popular, it may be dropped from the Olympics,” she had said.
While a number of coaches and players openly criticized the move to change the format many also supported the changes. And most of them were supporting the change not because they truly believed that the change would be good for the game but just to toe the line.
Going up against their own national governing bodies, has never been something many players want to do when their playing career can be derailed in an instant.
Unlike tennis that has its own professional body in the form of ATP and WTA, badminton players are in a way still amateur players under the thumbs of their respective national bodies.
While tennis players can enter and participate in any open international tournament on their own accord, the entries of badminton players in any open tournaments must be approved by the respective national badminton association. Even prize money is not paid directly to the players but only through the national badminton associations.
The players have much to lose in their career by not agreeing to the whims and fancies of the office bearers on their national associations.
While both the president and secretary general of the BWF are themselves former Olympians, the same cannot be said of the majority of office bearers in national sports associations.
That the BWF did not properly engage the players themselves directly, especially considering their leadership composition, does not augur well.
While it seems almost certain that the BWF would table the resolution to change the scoring system to 5 x 11 in the next few years, it would be prudent that the first line of engagement should be with the players themselves and perhaps also with the coaches.
There are many stakeholders in the game. It is just not the office bearers and the broadcast stations.
Engaging the players and coaches would be a much longer route and more difficult to convince. But does that mean that the BWF should ignore their views on the matter?
Remember it is the players who make what the game is. Without the likes superstars like Lin Dan, Kento Momota, Lee Chong Wei, Taufik Hidayat and Axelsen in recent years, the game of badminton would have never reached the heights it has.
Don’t discount the players’ views and needs.