All England 2012: A great time to turn it around
In just a few months, the ultimate sporting spectacle – the Olympics – will begin in London, and it’s evident that the All England will be its beneficiary.
Far removed from the romantic notions Indians have of ‘badminton’s Wimbledon’, the All England is a modern event held in the cavernous interiors of the National Indoor Arena, which defeats all notions of a close, intimate space. There is no parallel to the time machine Wimbledon is – no strawberries-and-cream, no black-and-white pictures of past champions, no Federer-like figure arriving in a cream blazer. For all purposes, the All England is just one of many other Superseries events, and has been treated as such.
A pity, really.
Organisers have shown little imagination in trumpeting the All England to the world. When I went there in 2008 and 2010, I was shocked to find that the only mention of it in the press was one-column reports in the local papers. In 2010 – the 100th year of the All England – I’d expected to find a grand celebration of a century of badminton’s most well-known event. There was, instead, a stoic indifference to that milestone.
We had all grown up on stories of Padukone winning the All England in 1980; his great rivalry with Liem Swie King, Morten Frost, and the others; the incredible exploits of Rudy Hartono; the arrival of the Chinese which turned the game on its head. All of these memories were set against the All England.
And yet, here it was at the NIA in Birmingham, shorn of all its magnetism. The organizers hadn’t put on a show, and the media, for its part, wasn’t even acknowledging the action.
There were no satisfactory explanations. Badminton as a spectacle – in terms of its ability to draw the crowds — seemed to have fallen on lean times. The local press seemed to have abandoned it, seemed to have believed there was nothing worth writing about.
Which is why I think the 2012 edition will be different. Coverage of every Olympic sport has steadily seen an increase, and even obscure players written about. A good example was the Twitter feud between England’s Jenny Wallwork and Scotland’s Imogen Bankier. With both competing for one place in the mixed doubles for Great Britain, there was some ribbing on Twitter – which soon became front-page news. Neither player could’ve dreamed of this kind of publicity even if she’d won the All England, but with the spotlight on Olympic athletes, their little feud grabbed media space far beyond what it deserved.
And so we can bet that this year’s coverage of the All England will be better than it ever was. And who’s to say it doesn’t deserve the attention? Despite their astounding athletic abilities, the likes of Lee Chong Wei, Lin Dan and the rest are barely known outside the worldwide badminton community. Remember, this could well be the last year we see the four titans in action together: Chong Wei, Lin Dan, Taufik Hidayat and Peter Gade. Taufik and Gade are retiring after the Olympics, and this could well be the world media’s last chance to present the apogee of a great era of badminton. What better setting than the All England, for the media to take notice?